31 May 2009

LIKE 4 - Storytelling

The fourth meeting of the London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) took place at the end of May in the upstairs room of The Perseverance in Lamb Conduit Street, Holborn.

This repeated the format of the previous meeting where a facilitator introduced a topic that was then discussed in small groups, these groups change around once to mix the conversations and then come together for a whole team wrap-up.

Also repeated from the last time was the much appreciated buffet that helped to fuel the discussions, as did the Wainwrights beer.

Storytelling has been a big topic in Knowledge Management for some years so it is no surprise that this proved to be a popular topic for a LIKE meeting.

Marja Kingma selected the topic and introduced it by relating a story from the British Library where their sound archives had been used to support the claim for the reintroduction of pool frogs.

The point of that story was to show that there is more to the BL than books and journals and we were asked to take this as an example of how story telling can be used in business and to build on that in our discussions.

As always we discussed far more than I can hope to summarize here but there were some points that struck home.

Stories in business often follow rigid rules, e.g. CVs and case studies and, while these rules are easy to understand, crafting a compelling story is still a difficult task that requires skills that not everybody has.

Stories can be told in many ways apart from written prose, e.g. video, pictures, drama, poetry, humour, cartoons, audio, etc. and different techniques are more appropriate to different kinds of stories and to different situations. This is a topic that we may want to explore further at a future meeting. However, business seems scared to try anything other than formal prose.

It was a great topic for discussion but the best thing about LIKE meetings is that they attract interesting and friendly people. It's rather like a very good dinner party.

30 May 2009

Emirates Airline London Sevens

A friend bought a number of tickets for the recent Emirates Airline London Sevens at Twickenham so I went to the first day to see what the fuss was all about.

We were in row 24 on the lower level on the west side which gave us a good view of the games, as this photo taken without any zoom shows. Only the lower level was open so I guess that there were around 15,000 people there, most of whom seemed to be wearing either the country's club colours or bizarre fancy dress. For some reason Kenya seemed to have attracted the most supporters, it certainly had the most enthusiastic ones.

The tournament started with a group stage with some unusual countries (from a rugby perspective) making up the numbers, I never expected to see Germany play for instance. This, combined with the open play that makes sevens attractive, led to some of the games being rather pointless and scores of 40 - 0 or worse were not uncommon.

That said, the rugby proved to be entertaining enough and we were all duly occupied for some eight hours. We arrived later than some and left earlier than a few but we were there longer than most. It seems that the opening day was something that most people were happy to sample just a bit of, particularly if they had children with them.

While the day was billed as a rugby tournament a serious amount of effort was put into trying to entertain us between the games. This included cheer leaders (here getting ready to welcome the England team on to the pitch) and various competitions that involved the cameras picking somebody out in the crowd who was acting madly when instructed to do so. You will not be surprised to hear that I did not join in any of these, nor did I join in with any of the Mexican waves or singing Macarena. For me all the entertainment was a distraction from what I thought was the main event, the rugby.

The other attraction for us gents was the bar. The beer was OK but came in plastic and cost an unreasonable £3.70 thanks to the bar's monopoly. The food was little better and somehow even managed to make chips look unappetising. I was surprised, and very pleased, to find a decent veggie burger at one of the stalls that ringed the outer boundary of the stadium.

From the outside, Twickenham Stadium does nothing to hide its concrete and steel construction and it looked reassuringly strong with the afternoon sunlight full on the west stand. Unfortunately it looked almost as industrial inside too with the concrete terraces only slightly softened by rows of hard plastic seats. But the worst bit is the no-man's-land between the inside and the outside where absolutely nothing has been done to soften the concrete underpasses. Some paint would do.

All told it was an entertaining day out but not quite entertaining enough for me to rush to do it again.

27 May 2009

Exploring St. Pancras

Wherever I work I like to get out at lunchtime and go for a little explore. This has many benefits, it breaks the work-through-lunch habit, provides a little light exercise and uncovers some nice surprises.

The new Logica office for London is just North of Kings Cross which is a part of London that I have not worked in before so there is much for me to explore. The office is right next to the Regent's Canal and that was an obvious place to start the exploration.

Heading West along the canal one sharp turn leads you to a different world where industrialisation is suddenly masked by countryside idyll in which sits St. Pancras Lock. Just behind the lock is the main line from St. Pancras Station but so too is a small wharf where around fifty canal boats are moored.

This stretch of the canal attracts many lunchtime explorers some of whom chose to jog through the landscape, some sit on one of the many benches and some, like me, try to look as though we are used to walking through rural scenes in business suits.

Just the other side of the railway line is St. Pancras Hospital site. It does not look much like a hospital and I guess that is has been superseded by the nearby University College London Hospital but it still appears to be owned by the National Health Service.

This magnificent Victorian industrial architecture sits on the North side of a small park and it is hard to think of a more impressive boundary or a more attractive backdrop for the trees and bushed.

The park is a mess in a delightful way with a criss-cross of paths and some graves and other monuments related to St Pancras Old Church on the South side. The park's main feature is this decorative monument that is guarded by four impassive lions.

All of these sites are no more than ten minutes from my office and were completely unknown to me until a few days ago. This is precisely why I go exploring!

25 May 2009

School admissions is a broken process

I have repeated experience of trying to get children into the school of their choice as a parent, a governor, a local government officer and, occasionally, as somebody who sits on Admissions Appeals Panels. These panels give parents who are unhappy with the school that they have been allocated to appeal against this allocation to an independent body whose decision is binding on the Local Authority.

Most of the appeals have little chance of success as the main grounds on which an appeal can be supported are that the school has failed to follow their published admissions policy or that this policy is unfair, and any competent admissions authority is not going to make these basic mistakes.

But the whole admissions process is quite complicated with parents specifying their preferred schools in priority order in October and then getting a letter in March that simply states which school they have been allocated, it does not say how this allocation was arrived at. Disappointed parents are told that they have the right to appeal and will often chose the appeal route simply because they are unhappy with the result of an opaque and complex process when a better understanding of the process could reassure them that they have been dealt with fairly, even if they do not like the end result.

What makes the situation even more difficult for parents is that many schools have now adopted some form of semi-independent status (Foundation, Voluntary Aided, etc.) which means that the school sets and manages its own admissions policy independently from its Local Authority. Most schools in this position have adopted their Local Authority's admissions policy as their own with some minor modifications but some have made quite significant changes.

It is these modifications that make the situation unnecessarily complex for parents as they have to try and understand the subtlety of the admissions policy for each school that they are interested in and it is easy to miss the little differences between them when they all look much the same and are all worded in stilted education jargon.

I do not want to go through the specifics of any of the cases that I have heard at an Admissions Appeals Panel recently (and I am sure that legally I am not allowed to either) but there were a couple of points that came up in general discussion when we were comparing the admissions policies of various schools in Kingston that I do want to highlight.

Firstly, some schools' admissions policies are confusing because they are very badly worded. Even as an expert in admissions I found that I had to read some of them several times to work out what they meant.

Secondly, some of the policies had clauses that unnecessarily (and possibly illegally) discriminated against some applicants, particularly those that could not apply by the October deadline. This is a serious issue for people that move within or into this country after October as they then have no realistic chance of getting their child into a popular school that has this clause in their admissions policy.

The Government has done much in recent years to try and improve the fairness of school admissions and while a lot of progress has been made there is still a lot more to do. In particular, schools need to check that their policies are simple, clear and do not discriminate. Until they do, there will be plenty more work for the Admissions Appeals Panels.

24 May 2009

The News Quiz 21 May 2009

The Friday evening comedy slot on Radio 4 alternates between The Now Show and The News Quiz and while I have been to see recordings of The Now Show several times I had never been to see the The News Quiz until this week.

The News Quiz is also recorded on Thursday evenings at the BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House so much of evening followed the usual ritual.

Part of this was a pizza at the Pizza Express all but next door but this may be for the last time. Comments made on previous visits and provided a £10 gift token but not an improvement in service - the dough balls ordered for a starter failed to arrive but were included in the bill. Not impressed.

Decided not to rush for the show and was happy to join the queue in position 100, instead of the usual 50. This was still good enough to get into the first waiting room (despite the usual incident with security which then made it easy to get a seat in the middle of the second row.

The stage was set up quite simply in the traditional game show way with Sandi Toksvig, the chair, sitting in the middle with the news reader, Francis Wheen and Robert Ince on her right and Steve Punt and Fred MacAulay on her left.

Steve Punt, as one of The Now Show creators is not meant to also appear on The News Quiz, and I guess that he was there as a late replacement for Jeremy Hardy who is a regular on the show and who was in that episode according to the BBC website.

The format is quite simple, each contestant in turn gets asked a question on a topical question which they find a correct but amusing way to answer and then the other panellists chip in with other relevant am musing comments. When the rambling runs out of steam Sandi brings the question to a close and moves to the next one. This goes on for three rounds.

The show is clearly partially scripted and the panellists have prepared some bon mots on topics that they know are likely to come up, like MPs' expenses.

The overall effect is rather like a conversation at a dinner party where everybody lets everybody else say their piece and emotions are kept well in check.

As a result it is consistently amusing but rarely very funny. The broadcast version is funnier because they edit it down from around one hour to half.

Some of this editing is pretty simple and brutal, of the twelve questions recorded only nine were broadcast. The rest of the editing pares the rambling down so that only the bonnest mots that pass UK legislation are broadcast.

I was glad I went as being there to see a show being made is always interesting but, unlike The Now Show, the live version of The News Quiz is not that much funnier that the broadcast one so I am unlikely to go again.

22 May 2009

Hoaxwind delight at The Peel

The last time that I saw Hoaxwind at The Peel they were supporting Dumpy's Rusty Nuts so it was nice to be back a few weeks later to see them headline their own show.

I was not interested in the support so having established from the band that they expected to be on stage around 10pm I set off by bus aiming to get there around 9:30 to give me time to socialise. The evening started well when somebody got on the bus wearing a Hoaxwind t-shirt I introduced myself and she explained that she was Tony's (keyboards) wife. We had a good chat about music in general and Hawkwind in particular as we walked through the darker byways of Norbiton to The Peel.

I got a little time to socialise and, sadly, to catch some of the opening act before Hoaxwind took the stage to face a mixed audience of ancient Hawkwind fans and kiddies who had come to see the support.

Not sure if there was anything significant in the decision but the first thing that I noticed was that they lined-up on stage in an almost mirror-image of their previous show. Another new feature was the projected display behind the band and the smoke machine that wheezed briefly before succumbing to some technical illness and dying ingloriously.

I had the presence of mind to make a note of the set list during the concert (I am too used to bands that put a clearly typed list on stage for you to photograph) but as I did not do this last time it is hard to do much of a comparison. Much like Space Ritual, Hoaxwind play a mix of early Hawkwind classics (Brainstorm, Master of the Universe, Orgone Accumulator) and more classics from the Bob Calvert era (Quark Strangeness and Charm, Death Trap and Hassan-i Sabbah).

It was the longer songs that I appreciated most and I was almost embarrassingly happy to hear Assault and Battery along with the previously mentioned Hassan-i Sabbah and Orgone Accumulator.

The songs are all excellent but what Hoaxwind do to them is excellent too. The arrangements are deliberately different from those that we are used to, this is nothing like listening to the LPs, and they make full use of the wide range of talents on display. They also put an effort into their appearance (though I have no idea what the skeleton suit has to do with the Hawkwind legend) and they all clearly relish their role in making the rich mix of sound work.

I made a point of listening to the various instruments individually at different times through the evening and it was clear that they are all accomplished musicians that play well together as a unit.

A Hoaxwind concert gives you good songs played my good musicians who enjoy their work - what more could you want from a night out?

21 May 2009

Slaine returns to 2000AD

Most of the stories in 2000AD fit firmly into the "science fiction" but there are some exceptions, such as the marvellously bloodthirsty Slaine.

In many ways this is familiar territory and a mythical pre-history world where savage gods and magic still hold sway has proved to be fertile ground and has spawned many fantastical stories with familiar characters like Conan the Barbarian and Merlin.

Slaine is a worth addition to that canon and has been enlivening the pages of 2000AD since 1983.

Pat Mills writes the stories and he writes much that is very good in 2000AD so you know that this is going to be good too.

Several artists have worked on Slaine over the years, all to good effect, including fan favourites Mike McMahon, Massimo Belardinelli, Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley.

The latest story, The Gong Beater, is drawn by Clint Langley who I said nice things about recently regarding his work on ABC Warriors (also written by Pat Mills) and his work here is also excellent.

The bloody axe tells you all that you need to know about the character and the story!

2000AD remains my favourite comic simply because of the diversity and the quality of the stories that it delivers week after week. Slaine is just another example that proves the rule.

19 May 2009

My Pub Kwiz questions

I've Twittered and blogged about the Pub Kwiz (their spelling) that I ran at the Willoughby Arms and some people have asked to see the questions, so here they are.

There are 6 rounds of 10 questions each with a two part answer that is worth a point each, that is 120 points for you not too hot on maths. There is a separate picture round with 15 pictures to identify worth a point each. That gets us to 135 points. In the pub the winning team (of two people) scored around 80.

It may or may not help you to know that in some cases one of the two answers is included in the questions and in some rounds some of the questions have the same answer.

See how you do.

Round 1: Places

These are all capitals of European cities or English country towns. In each case I want to know what they are the capital of and the name of the river that they are on.

1. France
2. Dorset
3. Hungary
4. Northumberland
5. Latvia
6. Staffordshire
7. Montenegro
8. Essex
9. Slovakia
10. Isle of Wight

Round 2: Popular albums

These are the names of the first tracks on popular albums. In want to know which album and who the artist is.

11. Taxman (from 1966)
12. Brighton Rock (74)
13. Holidays in the Sun (77)
14. The Things That Dreams Are Made of (81)
15. Wanna be startin’ something (82)
16. Running up that hill (85)
17. Smells Like Teen Spirit (91)
18. Bitter Sweet Symphony (97)
19. It's like That (2005)
20. The Garden (2008)

Round 3: TV Actors

These TV actors are all famous for a current or recent role. I want to know the name of the programme were they in in the years specified and the name of the character that they played.

21. Arthur Low (24 episodes, 1960-1965)
22. John Thaw (26 episodes, 1964-1966)
23. Wendy Richard (69 episodes, 1972-1985)
24. Joanna Lumley (102 episodes, 1973)
25. Dennis Waterman (53 episodes, 1975-1978)
26. Martin Shaw (57 episodes, 1977-1983)
27. Zoë Wanamaker (30 episodes, 1992-1994)
28. Anna Friel (unknown episodes, 1993-1995)
29. Will Mellor (73 episodes, 1995-2004)
30. Tamsin Greig (18 episodes, 2000-2004)

Round 4: Sports championships

These are current sports tournaments. In each case I want to know who won the event the last time that it was held and who they beat.

31. US Masters 2009 (2nd play-off hole)
32. European Challenge Cup Final 2008
33. FIFA Football World Cup 2006
34. Australian Women’s Open Tennis 2009
35. Super League Grand Final 2008
36. Betfred.com World Snooker Championship 2009
37. The Football Association Women’s Challenge Cup Competition 2009
38. 2009 Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship
39. Rugby World Cup 2007
40. ICC Women’s World Cup 2009

Round 5: Books

These are the titles of books in which famous characters made their first appearance. These are all in the realm of detectives, spies or adventurers. In each case I want to know the name of the character and of the creator.

41. A Study in Scarlet (1887)
42. Meet the Tiger! (1928)
43. The Secret of the Old Clock (1930)
44. The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
45. Detective Comics #27 (1939)
46. Five on a Treasure Island (1942)
47. Casino Royale (1953)
48. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
49. Call for the Dead (1961)
50. Knots and Crosses (1987)

Round 6: Poetry

These are the first lines of famous poems. I want to know the name of the poem and of the author.

51. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (1609)
52. The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea, (1750)
53. Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie, O, what a panic's in thy breastie! (1785)
54. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree (1797)
55. I wandered lonely as a cloud, That floats on high o'er vales and hills, (1815)
56. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (1819)
57. Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, (1854)
58. When awful darkness and silence reign, Over the great Gromboolian plain, (1877)
59. If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, (1895)
60. Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough! (1937)

Picture Round:

All of these pictures is associated with a phrase containing the word "one" which in some cases is normally written as "1". I want to know what the phrases are.


1. Paris – Seine
2. Dorchester - Frome
3. Budapest - Danube
4. Alnwick - Aln
5. Riga - Daugava
6. Stafford - Sow
7. Podgorica - Ribnica or Morača
8. Chelmsford – Chelmer or Can
9. Bratislava - Danube
10. Newport - Medina

11. Beatles - Revolver
12. Queen - Sheer Heart Attack
13. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
14. The Human League - Dare
15. Michael Jackson – Thriller
16. Kate Bush – Hounds of love
17. Nirvana - Nevermind
18. The Verve – Urban Hymns
19. Mariah Carey - The Emancipation of Mimi
20. Take That - Circus

21. Coronation Street - Leonard Swindley
22. Redcap - Sergeant John Mann (26 episodes, 1964-1966)
23. Are You Being Served? - Miss Brahms (69 episodes, 1972-1985)
24. Coronation Street - Elaine Perkins (102 episodes, 1973)
25. The Sweeney - Det. Sgt. George Carter (53 episodes, 1975-1978)
26. The Professionals - Doyle (57 episodes, 1977-1983)
27. Love Hurts - Tessa Piggott (30 episodes, 1992-1994)
28. Brookside - Beth Jordache (unknown episodes, 1993-1995)
29. Hollyoaks - Jambo Bolton (73 episodes, 1995-2004)
30. Black Books - Fran (18 episodes, 2000-2004)

31. Ángel Cabrera beat Kenny Perry
32. Bath Rugby beat Worcester Warriors
33. Italy beat France
34. Serena Williams beat Dinara Safina
35. Leeds Rhinos beat St Helens
36. John Higgins beat Shaun Murphy
37. Arsenal beat Sunderland
38. Phil Taylor beat Raymond van Barneveld
39. South Africa beat England
40. England beat New Zealand

41. Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
42. The Saint – Leslie Charteris
43. Nancy Drew - Carolyn Keene / Edward Stratemeyer
44. Miss Marple - Agatha Christie
45. Batman - Bob Kane
46. The Famous Five - Enid Blyton
47. James Bond - Ian Fleming
48. Inspector Morse - Colin Dexter
49. George Smiley - John le Carré
50. Inspector Rebus - Ian Rankin

51. Sonnet 18 - William Shakespeare
52. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard - Thomas Gray
53. To A Mouse - Robert Burns
54. Kubla Khan - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
55. Daffodils - William Wordsworth
56. To Autumn - John Keats
57. The Charge of the Light Brigade - Lord Alfred Tennyson
58. The Dong with a Luminous Nose - Edward Lear
59. If - Rudyard Kipling
60. Slough - Sir John Betjeman

1. One step beyond
2. No. 1 London
3. One foot in the grave
4. One small step for man
5. Queen Elizabeth 1
6. Air Force One
7. One Laptop Per Child
8. One for sorrow
9. One fine day
10. The One Show
11. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
12. One, two, buckle my shoe
13. M1
14. No. 1 in Heaven
15. The Last One

18 May 2009

On a winning streak :-)

I do not enter that many competitions but some tempt me and it is nice when I win something and just recently things have been going my way a little.
  1. I'm hardly short of shoulder bags but I fancied The Day the Earth Stood Still one in a competition in 2000AD and now it is in the study with all the others. Got the DVD too.
  2. The Willoughby Pub Kwiz on Sunday nights is a low-key affair but it is still nice to win and my team did a week ago and we got a Da Vinci Code board game each as our token prize.
  3. This week I won £25 on the Premium Bonds. I would have preferred the million but given today's saving rates £25 is a good return!
  4. I'm not short of black t-shirts either but who could resist a Philosophy Football one?
The total value of all these prizes is under £50 (and it's only that high because of the Premium Bond win) but it's nice to win and nicer to have something to show for it. Shame about the holiday to Mexico though ...

14 May 2009

Democracy in the UK?

Parliamentary democracy in the UK is big news at the moment with, for example, today's World at One on Radio 4 dominated by stories on MPs' bogus expenses, Lords facing expulsion for taking bribes and the failure of the Speaker to run parliament effectively.

All these, and similar, stories make it rather hard for us to walk the world stage complaining to countries like Pakistan, China, Kenya and Egypt that they really should do more to make their countries democratic like us.

But for me the problem with UK democracy is much deeper; we simply do not have enough of it. Being allowed to put a cross on a ballot paper once every two or three years does not make me feel that I am seriously engaged in making the decisions that affect my life.

I was very pleased to discover recently that Demos has looked at democracy in its widest scope to produce the Everyday Democracy Index. This looks at a range of factors across the community, workplace and family to produce an overall assessment of democracy in European countries.

It is probably no surprise that the North European countries come out top or that the South and East countries come out bottom but I find it interesting the the three largest West European countries (UK, France and Germany) compare unfavourably with their neighbours like Ireland, Belgium and Netherlands.

If the UK wants to boast of its democratic status then it has a lot more to do to even match the current best of class, particularly in the areas of the workplace and activism.

11 May 2009

Getting inclusion right

Inclusion is recognised as one of the strengths of the school that I am a governor of but it is not something that we take for granted and we are looking to further improve our Inclusion Policy.

All schools practice inclusion to some extent as, at its simplest, inclusion means taking account of children's individual needs in lessons. For example, teachers are used to dealing with children who have Special Educational Needs, speak English as an Additional Language, are Gifted and Talented or have a disability.

But there is much more to inclusion that that. Full inclusion is making sure that nobody within the school community (pupils, staff, parents, visitors, etc.) are excluded from any school activities (teaching and learning, arts, sports, trips, meetings, etc.).

Full inclusion is probably not achievable, e.g. there could be parents with physical disabilities that the school is just not equipped to deal with, but it is a worth aim and in aiming for it we hope to identify and correct some practices where we are currently unintentionally excluding some people.

For example, do we have a mix of books in our library to attract children with different cultures and lifestyles? When I was at school all the books that I read seemed to be about children at private boarding schools (Billy Bunter, Jennings, Malory Towers, etc.) which was hardy something that I could relate to!

Some of the other areas that we need to check for their inclusiveness are curriculum, uniform, menus, learning resources, performing arts, play equipment, etc. And some of the possible reasons for exclusion that we need to consider in each case are culture, language, life-style (travellers, children living with grandparents, etc.) and religion.

A small example shows the sort of thing that is required. In 2002 many schools opened early on days that England was playing in the World Cup so that pupils (and staff) could watch the games. We did that but we also did the same from the other nations represented in our school, particularly South Korea.

10 May 2009

Public Service Reform...?

Given my interest in Local Government, IT and left-of-centre politics it was an easy decision to attend the recent Compass talk on Public Service Reform...But Not As We Know It! based on the new book of the same name by Hilary Wainwright.

We were presented with the case study of Newcastle City Council where the union took the lead in ensuring that back office services that were under threat of outsourcing were kept in house and were transformed to deliver improved performance at reduced cost.

It was a pretty good story that was well told by various participants in the project. I was especially pleased to hear that front-line staff have taken a leading role in redesigning the services as this is one of the tenants of Systems Thinking, i.e. those that do the work know most about how the work is done.

However, I was less convinced by the argument that what worked at Newcastle can work everywhere else. For example, I am aware of case studies that show how effective outsourcing can be, when I worked at Lambeth we tried the in-house approach and that failed completely, and residents' surveys locally always show that the best council service is the outsourced refuse collection.

I was also a little concerned that the needs of the service users seemed to play a lesser role in the transformation that the needs of the staff.

Despite the success of the in-house approach, Newcastle continues to face pressure to outsource various services (as a cost-reduction measure) and the irony is that the in-house transformation would not have been attempted if not for this pressure.

The discussion on public service reform still has a long way to go but it is good that, in some places at least, that staff are being actively engaged in that discussion.

9 May 2009

Petersham Lodge garden (May 2009)

I think that this ought to be my last story about gardens for a while before people think that I have given up politics for gardening (I haven't!). The final garden in this little series of local gardens, again opened for charity by the National Gardens Scheme, is at Petersham Lodge which is about one mile up the road towards Richmond.

The main feature of the garden is a large pond that is enclosed by trees to make a space that is damp, dark and delightful. At one end of the pond is a large classical style folly with sheltered seats that offer the best view of the garden that stretches across the lake and lawn to the house.

A large section of the garden is informal and natural looking, though I am sure the gardeners take a lot of effort to achieve this look. As elsewhere in the garden there are seats, statues, vistas and paths. This quiet spot is secluded and shaded and is an ideal place to just sit and enjoy the greenery,

Near to the house the garden is more formal with well tended borders and this decorative collection of hedges. It's not a maze but it was close enough for the small children that had fun chasing each other around it.

Of the four gardens that I have been to recently Petersham Lodge is the only one that belongs to a normal (if rather large) house, the others have been communal gardens, and the owner is to be congratulated for sharing it with us.

You can see more photographs of Petersham Lodge on my Ham Photos blog.

7 May 2009

Factors Unforeseen at the Orange Tree

Factors Unforeseen is the latest production at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and another fine production it is too.

The heart of the play is the story of a manufacturer of sun tan cream that is badly hit by the very public death of a celebrity from skin cancer. This story is seen from the perspectives of the factory's management and workers, the celebrity and the company's American owners.

The participants' stories are interleaved and all take place on the one stage at the same time using a cast of some twenty actors playing thirty parts.

This sounds confusing but the clever direction makes it work.

The action takes place in the middle of the stage and round the edge we have three tableaux showing us the workers, celebrity and owners.

The actors in these tableaux sit remarkably still except when it is their turn to say their part of the story. The three tableaux also rotate twice during the play to give the audience different views of the action.

In contrast to the stillness of the tableaux, the main action is often frantic with the cast running on and off stage in all directions and frequently jumping on to the table in the centre of the stage. The picture shows the sales manager rallying his troops and in the background (far left) there is the celebrity (a princess) with her interviewer and (far right) one of the American owners.

The main story is fairly easy to summarise (but I wont, go and see it yourself!) and has no real surprises but it is compelling and involving story than is enhanced by being presented through the various perspectives.

The story comes to a simple, natural and satisfactory end that mirrors the opening. The chaos is gone, as is most of the cast, and all the story threads are brought together and are closed.

Because of the complex structure of the play there are no natural breaks and so no interval but while I missed my usual half-time Becks it was better for the drama to watch it unfold in one sitting and I spent most of the 1 3/4 hours with a grin on my face.

Yet another good play from the Orange Tree that maintains its reputation for presenting unusual and challenging material in exciting ways.

6 May 2009

Watergardens on Kingston Hill (May 2009)

I seem to becoming depressingly middle-class in my middle-age and am spending much more time walking around gardens than I used to. Worse still, I seem to be enjoying it.

The excellent National Garden Scheme opened up the Watergardens on Kingston Hill for a day and this is some of what is there to see.

You would expect to find water, cranes and round bridges in a Japanese inspired water gardens, and you do. The water flows through the garden to rest in this pond at the bottom where the abundant water encourages the broad leaf plants.

The cranes do not have it all their own way and they share the pond with a noisy fountain and several of the smallest ducklings that I have ever seen. There are some in this picture but the look just like the floating leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden there is lots of bright colour. There are some blues but these are mostly on small bluebells and the big dramatic splashes of colour are oranges, pinks, purples and reds.

The garden is on a little hill which is criss-crossed by water and paths making it a great place to explore. Even on a busy open day I was mostly able to avoid people and had no problems taking pictures without anybody in them.

Looking down on this bridge gives you some idea of the architecture, gradient and privacy, all of which combine to make this a great garden to visit

4 May 2009

LIKE 3 - Wisdom of Crowds and Financial Knowledge

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) had their third meeting (LIKE3) and their first workshop recently and I was delighted to participate.

About eighteen of us (I forgot to count!) gathered in a snug room at The Perseverance in Lamb Conduit Street, Holborn for an evening of discussions fuelled by a good buffet and, in my case, some of Thwaite's fine Wainwright Ale.

The format of the evening was based on the World Cafe approach with four tables each discussing the same subject with some movement between the tables to cross-fertilize the debates.

Key points were written down on post-it notes or on the paper tablecloths provided for that purpose but the point was to capture thoughts in your own head.

After the initial mixing, drinking and eating, I started off the first topic on experts versus crowds. This was a subject that I was keen to explore following some previous related debates and talks but I was not sure exactly what I wanted to get from the discussion so I made the topic pretty wide and left it to the participants to discover what it was that I was looking for.

This was our first LIKE debate, though many of us had been to similar events such as the Gurteen Knowledge Cafes before, and we were a little unsure how it would work out.

We should not have worried.

The broad mix of participants quickly got into their debating stride and soon we were engulfed by vibrant conversations.

Not sure how we managed to get an all women table at one point but to prove that there were men there too you can check out some other photos on Flickr.

My session overran a little but I think that this was just because we were all immersed in the debate, including myself and the official timekeeper!

We ended the meeting with a second session looking at the knowledge aspects of the current financial crisis and this proved to be an energizing debate.

It's my job to write up some sort of conclusions from my session and while it is a little early to comment on that in detail it is worth remarking on some of the common themes.

The media has an important role in selecting, promoting and giving a voice to experts and that our personal preferences (or prejudices) colour our view of which experts to believe.

Another theme that came up on more than one table was "information literacy" (e.g. how do we validate expertise) and a variant of this came up in the finance debate. Financial illiteracy was given as one of the reasons that people trusted dodgy products from dodgy banks and that bankers accepted dodgy loans from dodgy people.

We had a well deserved celebratory drink afterwards and started making our plans for LIKE4 on Thursday 28 May. It will be brilliant!

2 May 2009

Planning Kingston's future

I do not often have good things to say about Kingston Council so it is nice to be able to do so. The Council is producing the next set of planning strategy documents (called Local Development Frameworks) that will help to shape the physical environment in Kingston upon Thames for the next decade plus and they are consulting with residents on this.

I attended one of the consultations this week in our local village hall - the last time that I was there was to take one of the boys to playgroup so that must have been about fifteen years ago!

Overall I felt that there is not much seriously wrong in Kingston but significant improvements could be made in all areas.

The biggest problem area is transport where the traffic routes through Kingston are well connected and flow nicely but this is at the expense of the cycle and pedestrian routes which are broken by the major roads. For example, Kingston Station is on a traffic island so commuters and shoppers have to cross several lanes of traffic to get to/from it.

Similarly the parks are pleasant and much appreciated but all need a bit of Tender Loving Care to first protect and then enhance them.

Another key factor is the need to ensure that small shops and workshops are protected from the pressure to convert to housing. Communities need a mix of housing, shopping and somewhere to work. Not only does this keep the place alive during the day but it also reduces the need for people to travel.

Kingston Council should be congratulated for consulting like this but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, i.e. the documents that are produced as a result and the impact these have on the town.