Thursday, 24 December 2009

Contingency plans

What’s the weather going to do over the next few days? The roads have been very icy the last few mornings but tonight we’ve had rain and the snow appears to be thawing. We’ve cancelled the 8:00am Christmas Service at St Peter & St Paul: it’s just too risky at that time in the morning. The Crib Service, 4:30 Christmas Eve will be in the School Hall – this is better than the Oldham Hall because there’s a stage and the children will be more visible. For the other two services we’ve got contingency plans: the Midnight Communion at 11:30pm (which includes the 9 Carols and Lessons) and the 10:00am Christmas Communion on Christmas Day will either be in the Church or the Oldham Hall. I think by the look of the rain this evening we may be lucky.

The Ballinger services (Christingle at 3:00pm and Midnight at 11:30pm) will take place as scheduled.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Finding time

Another busy day but at least we can get around. A little ribbing from friends about the 4x4 but we’d be completely snowed in without it. Should I be doing some carbon trading to compensate?

Last year at about this time, I tried to find time to read. I don’t think I’ll have much time tomorrow but I’ll try. I’m behind with e-mails, too, and we have some decisions and actions for the Christmas services – will the snow melt? Will it be safe around the Church?

Monday, 21 December 2009


Out of the village today courtesy of Becky. I’ve decided that we need to be mobile over the next few days and the forecast is not good so I’ve hired a 4x4. The change from isolation to freedom – at least comparative freedom - made me think of all the people at home and round the world who don’t have our freedom to travel, to access information, to make friends.... So spare a thought and a prayer for the oppressed everywhere.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Eventful weekend...

... or not. Lots of phone calls, texts and e-mails about the snow and possible cancellations of Church things, but we were snowed-in up here at Little Hampden so Neta and her band of helpers had all the real work. The Dahl concert was cancelled – a wise decision because, apart from the difficulty in walking, parking would have been very dangerous on the slopes. A pity because this is a significant fund-raiser but I think most performers gave their time free so not too bad. We just held one service at Great Missenden – in the Church Hall. Our Carol Service at Little Hampden went ahead but we advised people who usually come from outside the village not to risk the ungritted lane. This included the clergy so it was a real do-it-yourself service. Thanks are due particularly to Mary and Geoff who helped with music, prayers and a talk. We had 45 in the congregation – there were only 48 at Great Missenden. It’s not competitive, of course, but as the 48 included three of our regulars we claim a draw. We didn’t, however, have a bishop arriving on a sledge!

From Christmas Cards and Notelets 2009 - possible pictures

Saturday, 19 December 2009


Beautiful snow today. Getting around is difficult but this beauty makes up for closed roads, no mains gas, broadband less than 1Mbps...
From Snow at Little Hampden December 09

From Snow at Little Hampden December 09

From Snow at Little Hampden December 09

Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow makes time

8 inches of snow (sorry, 200mm) forced a stay-at-home day. I had promised to help with copying and stapling – sorry Elizabeth! I even resisted taking pictures although this morning with the blue sky was wonderful. I did take one from the front door – the clear patches were caused by the wind – there was really 200mm in places!

But a day at home was good although there were several calls and e-mails about arrangements for the weekend. My e-mails are mounting up, though. I’ll need to attack them tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Contact with friends

One of the suggestions in last year’s Advent ‘Do Nothing for Christmas’ was to make contact with someone who has been on the card list but with whom I’d had no contact for some time. I reconnected with David, an ex work colleague – we had spent many enjoyable days together on various project before we retired. The result was an extremely enjoyable meal together – David and his wife share our interest in the theatre. We agreed at the time to meet again and perhaps share some theatre trips.

David’s card arrived today – with a note that we should arrange another get-together. Yes, we had failed in our promises. So I’m revisiting last year’s action but this time we’ll try to meet more than once.

Have you looked through your Christmas card list and spotted anyone you haven’t seen for some time – and would like to see again?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Children at Christmas

Here’s a statistic that should make you stop and think. I was thinking about children in difficulty over Christmas – and juxtaposing this with yesterday’s story about the homeless, so I did some research and found one statistic repeated many times: there are 130,000 homeless children in the UK. They’re not all on the streets like the WWNS guests, but B&B or temporary accommodation are not the right place for children at any time, and particularly not at Christmas.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Homeless at Christmas

One of last Christmas’s suggestions was to find out about the homeless locally. This led to my contact with the Wycombe Winter Night Shelter and a supporting them through the period of their operations – January to March – last year. We are supporting them as one of the Christmas charities in Church and I’ll be suggesting my IT Friends donate to them again in the first three months next year. I just hope I’ll have more time to sort out PC problems than I have had this quarter.

My first reaction to homeless locally was “ Homeless? Around here? Surely not” but the WWNS experience soon put me right. Their success is nothing short of spectacular: last winter, they had 48 guests during the three months, including 9 women. By the end of March, 40 of these had moved on to some form of accommodation – hostels, family, shared housing etc. Unfortunately 4 were still on the streets. Before I saw the report, I had thought that getting 10% off the streets would have been a success but over 80% is spectacular.

I’ll try to blog more about the WWNS later – but you can see something of their operations on their web site. Meanwhile, it’s a thought that while we are trying to find time for Christmas, there are people not far away struggling with a whole different set of problems.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Christmas Lights

The puds have been steaming all day – not the greenest of food! But what about Christmas Lights? I haven’t seen any OTT examples yet this year – here are some I spotted last year.

I thought I’d track down some solar-powered Christmas lights – and I found Nigel’s Eco Store. Nigel has lots of environmentally-friendly things including lights. Maybe just in time for last-minute shopping – on the internet, of course, so no travelling to the shops.

Green Christmas

Save time – and the environment (a little) by getting your Christmas groceries delivered rather than visiting the supermarket. We’ve got a slot booked on the 18th. No doubt there’ll be last-minute items requiring some local shopping but an internet order saves time (I think) and carbon footprint. I’m not sure if we should share our order with the family who are with us over Christmas. When we all went away together in the summer, daughter-in-law Gayle placed an order for things like disposable nappies but she made the mistake of offering the order to the rest of us. So we had great fun adding – and changing – Gayle’s order. I think my credit card was used in the end, of course!

While we’re on green Christmas (it doesn’t scan like white Christmas) have you looked at whether the food you’re getting is locally sourced – or at least has reasonable transport history? I have a copy of the book Shades of Green by Paul Waddington. Paul discusses the ‘greenness’ of various things. He doesn’t cover Brussels sprouts which I’m sure are fairly OK – they are not grown under polytunnels or air-freighted from miles away. He does discuss courgettes which are apparently Britain’s tenth-favourite veg. While eating locally-grown ones in season is OK, buying imported ones is very poor – particularly as they are 80% water and have virtually no nutritional value! Has anyone worked out the carbon footprint of a Christmas pud?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Finding time

Three days with no time to blog – but I have found time to be with friends and the family – including young Alfie’s Christmas service at St Peter & St Paul, Tring today. This was the Tring Stepping Stones pre-school group. The costumes we wonderful and most of the youngsters knew the carols.

The Oxford Diocese e-newsletter has two entries that interested me: the first was the plan, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, to ring out the bells this Sunday at 3pm in support of action on Climate change. I’m not sure if we’re participating locally – I’ll keep you posted. You can read more about this here – there’s an interesting list of participating Churches – the Netherlands, the Nordics and Germany seem to have most. The web site address for the World Council is rather strange – – can anyone decode?

The other entry is a thought for us all – spare a thought for single-parent families this Christmas. There are two web sites for Mums and Dads.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Copenhagen starts tomorrow

When I started this Advent section of my blog I had hoped to give some suggestion each day – in the same vein as the book I followed last year – and report my experiences. I’ve failed so far. I also thought I’d include some environmental suggestions. Tomorrow sees the start of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change – see the official web site. I’m not sure how much a big political event like this can achieve: bringing increased awareness and acceptance would be good but I’m suspicious that anything more will be political rather than real.

I was prompted to think of global warming again this morning by, of all people, Ranulph Fiennes and Michael Jackson! The former chose a song by the latter as his inheritance track on the radio this morning (I’m sorry about plugging R4 regularly) The words quoted by Fiennes, which he was passing on to his 3-year-old daughter, were ‘If you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself, and then make a change’ It reminded me of one of the principles of the quality drive we were immersed in during the ’80s – I think it was as long ago as that. Who remembers the quality stuff? We were led by the Japanese. The apocryphal story of the supplier of widgets who was told that only 1% should be faulty; the box of 1000 contained a bag with the 10 faulty ones in: the rest were perfect. The principle was that we could only change things that were under our control: it was very easy to say ‘if only X would do something we’d be a lot better’ but that didn’t achieve anything. It was a good principle – but a tough one. I think the same applies to our attempts at controlling the climate: It’s easy to blame the Chinese, or the oil industry, or the people down the road who drive a big Volvo (oh dear!) But what am I doing? What are you doing?

Let’s start with energy-saving light bulbs. These have come a long way from the £15 bulbs that took 10 minutes to warm up and only give 30% of the light of bulbs they purport to replace. Unfortunately, I have some of those bought originally for the lounge but moved to the study because they were so poor. The disadvantage of long-life bulbs is that they last for ever! I have a cupboard full of bulbs given by the electricity company (well, half a dozen or so) and it’s possible to buy them for 10p or so. I’ve changed virtually all the lights we use regularly to energy-savers – and will change the remainder when the current tungsten ones die. Normal incandescent lamps are fairly easy to change but reflector spotlights are more difficult. I’ve found some that are pretty good once they warm up (10 minutes’ notice required to boil the kettle in the kitchen!) but they are slow and quite expensive. I see that Gil Lec in Chesham are starting to sell LED bulbs which seem similar to the spots we have in the kitchen but I think they need different holders. I’ll have to investigate further.

I’ve also found some replacements for the PAR reflectors (the big spots) – we have some in Church. These are reportedly a higher wattage equivalent and are expected to last 15,000 hours which seems to be a double or triple advantage. We’ll see.

We have a large stock of tungsten bulbs in Church – presumably bought in bulk some time ago. I’m torn between being very green and discarding them, and keeping them till they are no longer available on the open market and then e-baying them for funds!

How are you doing changing over to energy-savers? What’s your experience?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Panto

Plenty of time for Christmas today - at the Panto!

Click on the slideshow to see bigger pictures:

Information Overload - getting there

No time for Christmas today but I've got my inbox down to single figures - except that I have 50-odd e-mails waiting. But I'm getting there!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Information Overload

Bishop Alan’s blog ( today has given me some new thoughts about finding time. He questions how the Church should react to the new media. How or even should the Church position itself to take advantage of the new communication capabilities. What new training or skill development is needed. Which of these technologies could be used to advantage. The entry reminded me of Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ written in 1970 in which he forecast that as society develops from a industrial to a informational one, the rate of change of things will continue to increase and people will become increasingly disconnected and suffering from future shock. We’ve certainly seen the rate of change of technology and communication increasing relentlessly: I spoke on this blog about change in January. I quoted £4 for 1Gb memory card; today 2Gb costs £4.50 and 4Gb £7.50. That’s about doubling in a year. And next year?

Toffler also invented the term ‘Information Overload’ which well defines my problem in finding time for Christmas. I googled this and found a Guardian article – but this had been removed from the web because the copyright had expired (that’s a whole new theme!) The comments seem to endorse the problem.

The trick seems to be to find the right way of using the technology. Undoubtedly there are benefits: I still quote one of my computer friends’ Christmas e-mails. I had helped her set up her webcam and skype and she e-mailed me on 25th December that she had just successfully skyped to her family in New Zealand – great. I can remember some 35 years ago we had the son of a French friend to stay with us to improve his English. We had to book a telephone to Paris to tell his parents he had arrived safely.

However, I don’t seem to have mastered this trick. Phone calls are successful but the e-mails are stacking up. Today wasn’t helped by a long unproductive call to the tax man but the less said about that the better.

So no new actions for tomorrow but perhaps a better understanding of the problem.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Some other Advent calendars


I don’t think I have really taken a risk with befriending anyone today. I have met a few new people or spent more time with people I’ve only met briefly before but I don’t think any of this qualifies. My telephoning (from Tuesday) has been more successful but I’m concerned that the e-mails are mounting up! I’ll have to work harder on this – perhaps tomorrow.


I’ve found a few other on-line Advent calendars. Woodlands Junior School in Kent, has a wonderful web site with an advent calendar that opens each day – I tried it a week or so ago and got a message “Hey, no peeking! Please come back to this page...” Each day seems to have a national flag and a dexcription of how Christmas is celebrated in that country – at least December 1 and 2 do. Take a look: Look at the whole web site, too, it’s got lots of fun things for youngsters.

There’s also an advent calendar on the Oxford Diocese’s online church – i-church - This is very different – and the message you get when trying a later date is a little more refined! I’ll put links on the right so you can keep an eye on them through Advent.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Take a risk


Lots of phone calls – and lots achieved with these. Also a long face-to-face meeting this morning that got much more done than a string of e-mails. However the ‘ruthless with the diary’ wasn’t so successful: I was doing fine until something cropped up that I hadn’t planned for and I had to spend time on it.


Last week I ranted about risk – in particular, how risk assessment is both becoming a meaningless bureaucratic process and is making us all unnecessarily risk-averse. In her sermon on Sunday, Rosie spoke about our need for closeness or intimacy with God. She went on to suggest that “the most real way we experience intimacy with God is by taking the risk of loving one another. This will sometimes go wrong and it will sometimes cause hurt, but because the love you have from God is utterly trustworthy you will be grounded enough to handle those risks –and more than that –you will begin to unfurl as a bud turning into a flower. You receive what you long for by giving it away!... Not for Paul the idea of loving God in an ivory castle -we know closeness to God through closeness to one another -warts and all!”

This message was mirrored in Monday’s Thought for the day on Radio 4’s Today. John Bell tells the story of meeting some youngsters in Vietnam. He took the risk of befriending them, resulting in an experience which will stay with him. He ends by saying that Advent is not about fairy lights or turkeys or little donkeys, “...It’s about God taking the risk of entrusting Himself to people who did not know Him, some of whom being of no religious persuasion, so that they might touch Him”

So tomorrow: take a risk and talk to, and perhaps befriend someone who you don’t know.

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Monday, 30 November 2009

Find time for Christmas

First day of December tomorrow. I’m going to try to start to get my workload under control so that I have time for Christmas. It’s a busy time and I have a significant backlog of things to do. But I do have lots of support – people who are willing to help in all sorts of ways. I’ve been trying to analyse some of the problems: one is that I underestimate how long things will take. This from an ex professional project manager is quite an admission! But, for example, I had hoped today to have an hour at 4-ish this afternoon to think about this blog entry – it’s now 10:30pm! Nothing has gone wrong – just things took longer than I thought. Another is task switching, I’m sure. Finding all the info about a particular activity takes time so with several on the go (I’m not going to own up to multi-tasking) this is a significant overhead.

I’m also looking hard at e-mail communications. There are lots of apocryphal stories: I remember hearing about a work colleague who only reacted to the second e-mail on any topic (the one beginning ‘did you get my note about....’) He argued that if it was important they’d send the second note, otherwise someone else would respond. Another suggestion was not to respond to any e-mail on which you were copied, i.e. not a direct addressee. Another is to keep the addressee lists as short as possible. I’m not sure that any of these are realistic.

I’ve already started trying to phone rather than e-mail where this is appropriate. The advantage is that usually the point can be resolved immediately. There are disadvantages, too: only one other person can take place and he or she must be there when the call is made. An e-mail has the advantage of being asynchronous. But the volume of e-mails is rather daunting: I was away from Tuesday last week, returning on Friday afternoon: I had 150 e-mails in my inbox. Quite a few were marketing ones (do you get several e-mails a day from Vistaprint?) but there were still 100-odd significant ones.

So to start, I’m going to try the following:

  • Be ruthless with the diary: plan to spend periods on certain activities and keep to the plan as much as possible

  • Manage e-mail activity down: telephone if practical, don’t perpetuate large distribution lists and don’t respond unless contributing – although a simple acknowledgement that a message has been received is often important

  • One thing at a time: complete an activity before switching; we used to call this ‘completed staff work’

Do you want to try with me?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent Sunday – Advent is here

Last year was easy – I tried to follow the day-by-day suggestions from Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s ‘Do nothing....’ I don’t think I can do this again so I’m going to try to try to make up my own Advent calendar.

Find Time for Christmas

We all seem very pressed these days – I had hoped to spend some time in November planning this Advent blog but I seem to have run out of time. We had a few days away last week and I came back to 150 e-mails which I haven’t cleared yet. So I thought I’d try to manage my time a little better and share my ideas. I don’t think this will cover every day so I’ll mix with some other suggestions to help us make more of Christmas.

If you have any ideas to help me, please add them as a comment or contact me directly. And of course in the spirit of the calendar, do try to join in and share your thoughts.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Risk assessment and management

Today’s reading which we discussed at tonight’s staff meeting was the second time that Risk surfaced today. The first was a request for a Risk Assessment for a situation (not in the Church) that I’m associated with.

I’ve been uncomfortable for some time about the Risk Assessment processes promoted by the government Health and Safety Executive. I have a number of concerns. Firstly ‘Assessment’ is passive: the dictionary defines it as ‘the act of judging or deciding the amount, value, quality or importance of something’ so it doesn’t suggest doing anything other than judging. I’m also concerned that Risk Assessments are viewed as a piece of bureaucracy. Once done, they can be filed away and forgotten. I was once told by a Young Enterprise student who was involved in an event at the school “don’t worry about the risk assessment, the office is doing that for us.” The HSE web site information tends to support these concerns.

Risk Management is a much better description of what needs to be done: assess the risks and then manage them. To be fair the HSE documentation does include as step 3 ‘what are you already doing’ and ‘what further action is necessary’ but the concept of actively managing the risks is absent. Risk management needs to be an integral part of the management of any initiative or activity. It needs to be balanced, so it shouldn’t take over, neither should it attempt to eliminate risks. Risk awareness is key: understanding the outstanding risks and, in particular, the potential impact of these. I regularly see people taking silly unnecessary risks – especially ones where the chance of them occurring is slim but the impact very serious. Walking along a country road with no pavement on the wrong (left) side is an example – crossing to face the traffic is simple and may avoid a fatal accident. I always give parked cars a very wide berth if there’s nobody coming the other way: the chance of a door opening or someone stepping out is small but the potential very serious. Neither of these situations is covered by Risk Assessment.

The reading, by the way, was a version of the parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19 12-28). The verse which I recognise as ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ was quoted as ‘He said, “That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.”’ The full parable can be read in the two versions here and here.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Advent is coming

Advent Sunday is two weeks away and December starts on the following Tuesday. Last year I tried following Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s advent book: Do Nothing for Christmas. That was great but I don’t think I can repeat it. So I thought I’d make up my own advent calendar with things to try each day. These will be mainly, but not exclusively, green activities. Christmas, when we all spend lots of money – not to mention time, energy and thought – on presents, food, drink etc, Christmas is a good time to be more aware of being less profligate with the earth’s resources. Whether or not you believe in global warming, I hope there’ll be some ideas you’ll find ... challenging? interesting? amusing? We’ll see. And I also hope there’ll be some comments and debate this year: perhaps I need to me more contentious.

Here’s a simple starter: do you still buy bottled water? The evidence is that fewer of us are: sales are down – maybe a recessional effect. But I still see people walking around with bottles – and how come many people can’t last through a visit to the theatre without swigging from a bottle of water?

We’re lucky here that the tapwater is pretty good. I think ours comes direct from a borehole along the Rignall Road towards Great Missenden. But is fairly highly chlorinated and doesn’t taste too good direct from the tap. However, we keep a couple of bottles in the fridge. These we fill from the tap but leave an air space for the chlorine to evaporate. After a day or so the water is wonderful. Give it a try!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Do nothing...

Did you hear Thought for the Day in Today on R4 this morning? Author Rhidian Brook complains of drowning in e-mails and even taking his laptop into the bath to catch up. It rang a bell (but not the bath bit) Last Christmas I started blogging by following Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s advent book ‘Do nothing for Christmas’ This was a follow-on to his book ‘Do nothing to change your life’ I bought this after Christmas thinking that I needed to get to grips with things... but I still haven’t had a chance to read it. So when Rhidian Brook this morning talked about trying to have some time at the start of the day I thought that I need to try that – and perhaps I’d find time to read the book.

You can listen to Thought for today here:
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Saturday, 31 October 2009

Crottin du Chavignol

We’ve just started the goat’s cheese we bought at Chaudoux earlier in the week – great!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Late call to Church

I’ve just returned from St Peter & St Paul, Gt Missenden after a rather exciting hour or so: a phone call at about 10:15 alerted me that there was a fire. When I arrived, the fire brigade were putting out a fire in a car which had been driven through the top gate. Presumably the car was stolen. The gate is beyond repair (but one of the firemen has offered to replace at a good rate!) but fortunately there’s no other damage. Those of you who know the Church, will know there’s a short length of drive between the top gate and the graveyard: the remains of the car are there – and there’s room to pass. The police are now in attendance, presumably looking for evidence.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Big Camp

We had three young members of the Church camping in our garden last night. They picked the coldest night of the year so far but I think they enjoyed themselves.

To see all the pictures click here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season of mists...

This was the view from the field in front of our house yesterday morning.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Two Cultures- are we any better?

I started re-reading CP Snow’s New Men a week or so ago and coincidentally there have been several comments in the press about his ‘Two Cultures’ lecture which was given 50 years ago. Snow’s premise was that the two cultures of Art and Science didn’t mix and that this division was a hindrance to solving the problems of the world. He also highlighted the lack of scientific understanding in the population generally – suggesting originally that few people would be able to quote the second law of thermodynamics whereas many could quote Shakespeare.

Are we any better? Let’s look at Snow’s later comparison (he admitted that thermodynamics may be rather advanced.) Could you give a simple explanation of mass, acceleration, antibiotics, cable-stayed bridges? What about Romeo and Juliet, The Mona Lisa, The Hobbit, African Queen? No googling!

There’s an article in today’s Times by William Waldegrave in which he claims that we can be more optimistic about bridging this gap. The comments on this article don’t seem to agree.

There was another related report on Today yesterday. An analysis of science students’ essays showed significantly more spelling and grammatical errors in UK students’ work than the essays from overseas students. So perhaps the budding scientists are still backward at the art of communicating in English. We could argue, of course, that communication skills are so fundamental that they should permeate all cultures. You can hear the Today item here.

I’ve been increasingly concerned about a different set of cultures – those of the public and private sector. We’ve seen attempts to impose the practices from the latter on the former with limited success. So are we seeing another division of the world? More of this later.

Postscript: I’ve just spotted two radio programs discussing the CP Snow lecture in the present context. I haven’t listened yet but I’ll try to do so soon.

Times Waldegrave article

BBC Two Cultures broadcasts

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Collaborative thinking

Rosie sent me a link to a blog she follows which contains an interesting comment on collaborative thinking. The author of the blog, Tim, has obviously been reading and thinking about engaging people in activities – or even how groups of people act when they are not obviously engaged. I’m not sure of the context in which Tim has been operating but I’ve been thinking about how to get the best out of volunteers – a problem we’re constantly faced with.

But I think collaborative thinking is broader than that: how can we better capture the intelligence of groups of people? I’m not sure that intelligence is the right word. How can we channel that intelligence (or whatever) into a benefit? Let’s examine Tim’s key themes:

NUMBERS are important: critical mass, yes, but the chance of channelling many people into a coherent direction diminishes with numbers. And the number of potential interactions increases rapidly: perhaps someone can comment on the mathematical formula which I’ve forgotten but the argument goes something like this: two people have one link, three have three, four have six, five people have fifteen links and so on. Networking and technology help, of course.

NETWORKING enhances collaboration: I don’t have a problem with this – sharing and discussing ideas with others usually results in expansion of ideas. Technology enhances this, too, although I haven’t seen much expansion of ideas on Facebook!

SELF-ORGANISATION is essential: I do have a problem with this, at least if some positive aim is envisaged. I agree that many aspects of how a group should operate can be left to the group, but some guidance needs to be given or agreed otherwise the direction will be unpredictable – and the group may go round in circles. When I was involved in managing complex business projects, we often stressed the need to have clear objectives which should not be confused with tasks or activities – what has to be achieved rather than what has to be done.

Learning takes place in CONVERSATION often resulting in individual action: I’m not sure what this means. Is it about learning or action? Do collaborative groups not take decisions often because it’s very difficult in this environment to do so? Group decision making is difficult, although I have witnessed something very surprising in Young Enterprise companies. These are groups of 10-20 students – 16-17 year-olds – who are running their own company. On several occasions I have watched as a fairly rowdy bunch of students will debate an important decision in seemingly chaotic manner – but after 5-10 minutes the group will come to a consensus with which they all agree (or which they all accept). The process by which they arrived at this is still a mystery to me!

We need a DUAL ECONOMY: I interpret this as relating the infrastructure to the loosely-coupled group. Tim says ‘collaboration makes failure cheap’ – in financial terms perhaps but in terms of motivation and continuation of any collaborative activity surely failure risks disillusion. I’ve been involved in failures in the organised world and we simply picked up the pieces and move on, but in a collaborative world I’m sure people would walk away.

TECHNOLOGY affects collaboration: yes! But can it be made to work? People have differing views of technology, differing skills and differing levels of willingness to participate. In one of my last assignments with IBM I ran an international team that was located across the world. We met every six weeks or so and we operated through e-mail and conference calls. But the most powerful tool was a messenger: we could see when our colleagues were at their desks and we could chat as if we were in the same office. I’ve used the term ‘next-desk thinking’ – behaving as though we were in the same room. We also had to develop other ways of operating remotely – body-language is very difficult to interpret on a telephone call! So technology can enhance collaboration but it can also be an inhibitor. There’s no substitute for talking face-to-face.

SPIRITUALITY should not be overlooked: I need more time to relate to this.

Perhaps I’m coming to all this from a very different background. I subscribe to a series of reports from a web site that claims to provide real world advice on how to make technology work in business. I’ve just been sent a link to an entry from a ‘leadership coach’ – from the US of course – giving nine tips to improve effectiveness as a leader. I don’t think they conflict with Tim’s points but they make interesting reading. There’s a link to the full set below but three of the tips struck me:

  • Go to other people’s offices for meetings –easier to get away than to get rid of visitors

  • Snooze – my sailing friend Ian is a very keen on this
  • Act like a lady – you need to read the explanation of this one!

Tim's blog entry

Tech Republic

Monday, 14 September 2009

Stop press! The cat’s just brought a glis-glis in

... and abandoned it! We managed to catch it and release it in the garden.

Energy-saving lightbulbs

Prompted by our ‘Think Local’ in a few weeks, I thought I’d start some green blogging. Hence the subtle change of colour!

I’ve been trying to convert as many of our lights at home converted to energy-saving bulbs – with mixed results. The standard bulbs – the ones with visible tubes – are now very good. They start up quickly, have a good colour and do seem to last a long time. We’ve got these in hall, stairs and porch lights and they’re fine. In our lounge we used to have 40 watt incandescent golfball bulbs on wall brackets with small lampshades. The ceilings are low so we can’t have ceiling lights. The first bulbs I found – long life golfballs were a failure – they took 10 minutes to fire up and, although quoted as equivalent to 40 watts, were rather dim. I’ve now found some better ones – they have exposed tubes but in a small spiral. We’ve had to buy some new lampshades but I’ve moved the golfball bulbs and lampshades to the study – but I have to admit to having one tungsten lamp for instant light!

The kitchen has reflector bulbs in downlighters. Originally 40 watt tungsten , I had already converted some of these to halogen bulbs which are reported to last 2000 hours. I’ve now found some replacement bulbs – at Gil-Lec in Chesham – that are pretty good. They are slow to start, which is not ideal in a kitchen, but once they warm up they work very well.

The kitchen lights are 7 watt and the lounge ones 8 or 12 watt so we’re achieving a significant saving on electricity. I’ve just had a letter reducing my monthly direct debit because of lower usage.

We’ve also got two outside lights that are switched on via a photocell. I normally leave them on all the time, but I thought I’d try to get a timeswitch to switch off at midnight or so. I found one in B&Q but what I didn’t notice (it was very small print) was that it doesn’t work with ling-life bulbs. I guess that it needs a trickle current through a filament to keep it operating. So it’s back to the on-off switch.

I’ve just done a check of the lights we use regularly at home: 73% are long-life, and we’ll convert most of the rest once the current ones expire. How are you doing?

What do you think of the look of long-life bulbs? We recently had a visit to St Peter & Paul, Great Missenden, by members of the Bucks Historic Churches Trust. We have the plain long life bulbs in most of the fittings. One member said ‘they don’t look too bad, do they?’ another said ‘they look terrible.’ What’s your view? The older tungsten bulbs are no more authentic, of course, just that we’ve been used to them for many years!

‘Think Local’ will take place in the Oldham Hall, Church Street, Great Missenden HP16 0AZ on Sunday 4th October from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Sponsored by the Church, it aims to encourage members of the community to reduce their carbon footprint and support local businesses by shopping locally.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Elizabeth and Joe arrive

Elizabeth, who’s going to be our part-time youth worker for the remainder of Lizzie’s maternity leave, arrived tonight with her husband Joe. Joe is starting to study for his PhD at Oxford. We’ve all been looking forward to this meeting for some time – none more than Elizabeth and Joe! They flew in from Reykjavik – Iceland Air was the cheapest one-way from the US – where they had a few days doing the sights. During their stay, they amused the tour bus by owning up, as Americans, to being responsible for the shrinking of the glacier they were visiting!

By the way Heathrow was deserted: this was the terminal 1 arrivals waiting area at 8 pm tonight – a sign of the recession?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Buildings have been in the news recently. The latest Chiltern News from the Chiltern Society has the results of the 2009 Chilterns Buildings Design Awards – awarded jointly by the Society and the Chilterns Conservation Board. Winner is a house extension in Berkhamstead with two commended entries: the Akeman Restaurant in Tring and th Pool Barn at Chisbridge. More details can be found on the AONB web site.

Two other awards: the ugliest building in Britain was won (lost?) by Liverpool’s Pier Head Ferry Terminal.

The bookies’ favourite for the annual Sterling Prize is the Fuglsang Kunstmuseum in Denmark – designed by British architect Tony Fretton.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Art – JW Waterhouse and The Pitmen Painters

We went to the theatre to see The Pitmen Painters today. On the way we caught the JW Waterhouse exhibition the RA. Waterhouse is one of the best known Pre-Raphaelites: many of his pictures are very familiar:

All Waterhouse’s women seem to have the same expression – perhaps he only had one model!

The Pitmen Painters was great. It is written by Lee Hall of Billy Elliot fame and has some common threads with that tale. It’s based on a true story of a group of miners from near Newcastle who in 1935 start painting as part of a WEA Art Appreciation class. Several of them were undoubtedly very talented but they continued to go down the mine, painting only as a pastime. Like Billy Elliot, it is a story of development of hidden talent in people of unexpected background. The play is very light-hearted but also very moving. They project many images of the miners’ paintings during the play. Unfortunately there are no images on the web – only the small ones on the website of the Ashington group, the trust that now owns them:

The play is touring the UK soon and there is talk of a west end transfer: if you get a chance, do go and see it.

Back to Waterhouse: there was a wonderful St Cecilia: perhaps the RA would loan it to us if we dedicated Little Hampden Church to her!

I've put some links in the 'links' panel to the right.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

They're back!

Helen and Will arrived triumphantly in Church today.

They recorded their track on most days on my GPS. I’ll post a detailed map here later in the week.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Wedding at Little Hampden

And now for something completely different: there was a wedding at Little Hampden this morning. The registers we are currently using started in 1840 – note that neither bride, nor groom nor the witnesses in marriage number 2 could write.

Today’s couple were number 69.

Lucy rang the bell – the first time it’s been rung for several years.

Friday, 28 August 2009

They've made it!

2:15 this afternoon, a text from Margaret said: ‘They’ve done it! Just in time – it’s pouring. They’re both safe but tired. 305 miles of hard cycling.’ Helen’s Facebook entry (via her mobile) said ‘Helen Biggerstaff Has finished the ride. Back to the undulations of the beautiful Chilterns! See some of you on Sunday! X’

It’s been a hard week, particularly with mixed weather, but Will and Helen have achieved their target: across the North of England from coast to coast and back. They should be back in Great Missenden on Sunday – come to St Peter & St Paul to welcome them home.

If you haven’t sponsored them yet, it’s not too late: email me on

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Thursday evening – only 30 miles to go but...

No mobile signal tonight so just a quick phone call. I think they are at Bewaldeth. They’ve had a very good day but the forecast for tomorrow is very bad: 40-50 mph head winds. They are looking at alternative ways of doing the last 30 miles without struggling against a head wind.

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Thursday - they're in good spirits

Just had a text: Having coffee in Hethersgill. Will’s got too much energy – is cycling up and down the road. Making for Carlisle

I've just looked at the profile - downhill today but a 350M climb tomorrow

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Wednesday update

Latest info: Difficult day. Will had a problem with his bike. A bike hire shop mended it – for only £1.50! Poor signage round Kielder – Helen was rescued by two 80-year-olds! They are staying in a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The weather hasn’t been too good today – should be better tomorrow – forecast is for sunny intervals and no rain.

Looks like a wet day

No communication yet direct from Will and Helen but facebook entries: 'had a hot shower and is looking out at Hadrians Wall- YHA at Birdoswald. Quirky but nice!' and 'Is back in mobile signal. Good ride, but got very wet and very lost out of Kielder- signage rubbish!'

Birdoswald is here

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And here is how they are doing on a larger map

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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

C2C completed – Reivers started

Will and Helen reached the coast yesterday and have set out on the return journey on the Reivers route today. Margaret reported at about 16:20 that they were making great progress and had passed Bellingham in lovely weather. The profile of the Reivers route looks tougher than the C2C – see the web site – but they are still in good spirits and can see the end of their 310 mile ride.

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Monday, 24 August 2009

15:35 Monday

Will and Helen have arrived in Sunderland. They've got to the other coast and are reported to be inhigh spirits. More later.

14:15 Monday

Txt: 'Morale high! Making final push for Sunderland. Hope to reach in a couple of hours'

Update Monday morning

I’ve just had a txt from Margaret - ‘just leaving Stanhope up another climb to top of moor. Weather clear and dry. In good spirits’

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Day 2

I’m not sure where they are – they have sent a grid ref from the GPS but must have reset the coordinates. I estimate they are near Allenheads. It’s been a tough day – lots of uphill and bad weather. Margaret reports ‘I was cold and I had 3 layers and the heater on in the car’ Both Will and Heleb were soaked at the highest point. Tomorrow looks like some hard uphill stretches but lots of downhill. I’ll try to get a better position .

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Update - noon Sunday

10:00: set off from Langwathby - in good spirits.

12:00: just reached summit 1903 feet. Tough going - windy and raining and paining, too.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

First day – 10 miles further than planned

The first section – 25 miles to Keswick was reported as ‘hard going’ however, the afternoon seems to have gone better. Will and Helen have reached Greystoke. Prompted by the weather forecast which doesn’t look too good for tomorrow, they continued beyond their planned end point.

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They’ve started

Helen and Will left Wokington at 9:45 with a tail wind. They are heading for Keswick.

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Friday, 21 August 2009

The Big Cycle Ride starts here

Will Dixon and Helen Bickerstaff are starting their 310 mile sponsored cycle ride tomorrow. They plan to cycle the C2C and Reivers Paths – from Whitehaven to Teignmouth and back – in 6 days, up to 60 miles a day. They are hoping to send me brief reports at the end of each day which I’ll relay here. The ride is in support of the proposed renewable energy projects at St Peter & St Paul, Gt Missenden: the Church is attempting to install solar panels which will enable it to generate more energy that it uses. A number of grants have already been promised towards this project.

If you haven’t sponsored Helen and Will yet, e-mail me and I’ll send you details.

More information on the cycle routes are on the web sites – links in the ‘links’ entries to the right.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Harvest at Little Hampden

Sitting out in the garden the last few evenings, we’ve had the rumble of combine harvesters in the background. Don, who farms near us, started the field just below the house yesterday.

Recording in Church

Tom and his friends recording in St Peter & St Paul yesterday

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Choir party

We had the Church Choir to a barbecue last evening. We picked the best evening of the summer so far.

Click on slideshow or here to see larger pictures.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Communications and social networking - and jam

Three Skype video calls today – one to Hare Lane, one to North Carolina and one to Georgia. Neta (my colleague Churchwarden) and I have stopped driving to meet each other for our regular updates and meet via Skype instead. It saves time and a round trip of about 9 miles. But not only is it greener, it is very effective. It’s not quite like a face-to-face meeting but we are able to see the body language. I also discovered a new web site ( that provides a whiteboard for use on conference calls. Anyone connected can draw on it. I haven’t tried it yet but it sounds fun.

The two calls to the US allowed me to meet Joe, our new Youth Worker’s husband, and to discuss the process they have to go through to get their visas. We were able to debate the relative bureaucracies of our two countries. Both have introduced new rules recently which will result in or new team member crossing the Atlantic three times.

All this positive use of technology (OK, I’m a technophile) contrasts with Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ condemnation of social networking. My rather limited experience of youngsters and these sites is that they use them to continue communications and relationships that they have made in person, not as a substitute for personal links. The comments on The Times web article are mainly anti – although I guess people who comment on a web site are not a cross section of society. I think that these communications tools, used sensibly, are a big benefit to society and to blame them or suggest banning them is no help. As some of the comments say, the problems lie elsewhere and some positive suggestions would be a help.

In contrast to this, Brenda has spent the day making jam: we picked 4½ kilos of gooseberries and 2 kilos of blackcurrants yesterday and there’s more in the garden.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

William Eggleston

Another Imagine programme on BBC tonight – William Eggleston. I first saw his work at an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery a few years ago and I was fascinated by the ordinary but enigmatic photographs. One I’ve copied a number of times was simply birds on power cables. But my favourite is Sumner Mississippi 69-70. What is going on here?

The mystery was rather spoiled when they described the background to the picture... no, I won’t let on.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

24 hours afloat

I’ve just arrived back from an interesting time on the boat. No sailing, just cleaning and tidying up, although I did try to get into the jetty to fill up the water tank, but I failed. I thought I’d worked out the tide but there wasn’t enough depth so I gave up.

The first interesting event was the egg. We have some inverted plastic gutters on the deck to prevent the ropes which come from the mast to the cockpit from chafing the spray dodger when it’s folded. These are the standard half-round guttering resting upside down on the deck. When I moved one of these to scrub the deck, I found this egg. I’m not sure what bird laid it but there are lots of terns and oyster catchers around. But why leave it here – presumably it wouldn’t be able to incubate it.

Then there were then some interesting exchanges on the VHF. The first was between Solent Coastguard and a vessel in some difficulty: a 23M power boat whose both engines had failed and was unable to anchor because it had no power! 23M is enormous – 75 feet. They sent out the Portsmouth inshore lifeboat. There were no further communications so I’m not sure how a 5M RIB got on with a 23M vessel. The other notable communication was about a laser dinghy that had got into difficulty just inside Newtown Creek. A passing boat had called the coastguard who had located the rescue boat. The coastguard asked the boat that was standing by to tell the dinghy to say where it was because the rescue boat was on its way. The coastguard ended by saying “Thank you very much for going to the assistance of the dinghy and for relaying communications” – they are always so courteous and calm. I hope I never have to call them but it’s very comforting to know how professional they are.

Portsmouth Harbour is a navy establishment and all commercial shipping movements and many leisure ones have to be authorised by the Queen’s Harbour Master – QHM. It’s amusing to listen in to the QMH conversations: they are always very courteous and gentlemanly. “QHM this is St Clare. Request permission to leave The Camber. Over” “ St Clare, QHM, Yes, thank you, that’s approved” “QHM St Clare. Thank you, Sir” Today the Brittany Ferries ‘Mont St Michel’ was coming into harbour – presumably on a fairly fast incoming tide. There’s a 10kt speed limit in the harbour and approaches – particularly for these big ferries. The conversation went something like “Mont St Michel this is QHM. Please check your speed” “QHM this is Mont St Michel. What is the speed limit?” “Mont St Michel this is QHM, the speed limit is ten knots over the ground, sir” I don’t think there were any further exchanges but the Mont St Michel was seen a few minutes later travelling through the harbour very slowly. International incident avoided.

The QHM web site is and there’s a fascinating web site which shows all commercial shipping movements in the Solent in real time, updated every minute or so: