Friday, 8 April 2016

Differently occupied

We don't say the "R" word in house ; no,  we are "differently occupied". And this was the subject of conversation today as we sipped coffees at a busy Hove seafront "Marrocco's" with a friend , who is in the same boat. After about four decades of full time work each, we are choosing to spend our time doing things we love and believe in......including some voluntary, campaigning or paid work .

For all of us, time out in the fresh air , taking exercise , and enjoying the beauty of seaside, countryside and cityscapes is important . Whether walking as Penny and I do, or cycling as L does, we all want to stay fit , appreciating our surroundings, exploring new and pre-loved places . For none of us does  the gym hold any interest ! 

Having our Merry-dog , is great. She gets us out and when we are indoors she gives us unconditional love and warm cuddles . And now I learn that having a dog is scientifically proven to reduce stress . 

Being "differently occupied " over the last 10 months, has for me involved a good deal of time in carer -mode . Since early February dad has been in a nursing home . Apart from regular visiting,  my responsibilities are largely ones of a practical and financial management nature. It's now 3 months on from his stroke, and this week we visited outpatients for a follow up appointment .  Dad's hospital doctor expressed delight at his progress . Although he can only walk a few steps , he has regained so much of his functioning and is continuing to improve . For the first time since January 2nd we were able to take him down to see the sea and visit our house for a cuppa . He has certainly benefitted from the 24/7 Heath and social care services , not forgetting our therapeutic dog whose visits he so loves. 


Being "differently occupied " I've re-found the headspace for reading novels and memoirs , something that I never managed when I was a local government CEO . Now I always have one book on the go, and a pile of others that I'm looking forward to . I have enjoyed such an eclectic range over the past months, some of which I've referred to in earlier blogs.  My current read is the well reviewed " The Outrun" by Amy Liptrot , a beautifully written memoir , which begins ( and I think will end ) in the Orkneys , the beautiful place of her upbringing . 

As well as reading , i've made time for writing, and most indulgent of all, I enjoyed a term's creative writing course , from Beach Hut writer/teacher, Araminta Hall.  It was such a joy to get back to classroom learning and I even relished the homework! Her most recent novel, "Dot" , is on that pile I mentioned and I can recommend her first novel "Everything and nothing". 

Anyone who knows me, is well aware that I love art . Being " differently occupied " means that I no longer miss exhibitions that I want to see. Indeed , we travel for our art, as we did recently to see the East London Group "Out of Town" at Beecroft gallery , Southend . 

    Paintings by Cecil Osborne , East London Group 

   And I don't think we have missed an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester , over the past year.  The current exhibition is "the fabric of Modernism" , featuring the work of John Piper in textiles and tapestry. It's a stunning exhibition. I love his work and was amazed to learn that he did not design his first tapestry until he was in his sixties. 

   Foliage Heads  1953  gouache and crayon on paper 

   Foliage head, Autumn, 1986 , wool pile tapestry 

We are certainly getting value from our gallery memberships , of which Pallant House is but one. 
And as well as enjoying the exhibitions, it's wonderful to meet at the member's room at Tate Modern to conduct mentoring sessions. The opportunity to support and challenge senior leaders who have sought me out is rewarding for me and ( I hope) valuable them . And I get the chance to pop into exhibitions on the way in and out . 

                                  Alexander Calder " Performing Sculpture " exhibition - Tate Modern 

Twitter certainly takes up more of my "differently occupied" time and provides a continued connectedness to the world of public service and  its leaders and practitioners for whom I retain huge care and respect . I manage to keep up to date with policy and practice and to participate in debate. 
Even today , one of the blogs I follow,  " A London inheritance", highlights a set of statues that I was first introduced to by my artist brother. The statues are by Alfred Drury and F.W.Pomeroy and were added to Vauxhall Bridge in 1907 . On the the western side they represent Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering and Pottery . On the eastern side they represent Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education . It delights me to think of such recognition for some of my pet subjects ! Who knows about these hidden gems? 

    Vauxhall Bridge east side statues : Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education

I could expand on other "work " as part of being "differently occupied " . I could illustrate the travel we have managed or the welcome extra time for our grown up children, friends and extended families . I could talk again about theatre and jazz which has delighted us . I think I will leave that for another week and end with a favourite East London Group picture . This takes me back to university in the early seventies at ( what was then) Queen Mary College, University of London , and then to social work in Tower Hamlets.  Some would say being at uni was being "differently occupied" ; I hope  they'd never say that about working for the citizens of Tower Hamlets as a Social Worker . 

   Canal, Mile End by Walter Steggles. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Mobile technology and social media

II haven't posted for over a week since we've been travelling about and I hadn't much I wanted to share. And then I reflected on the wonders of the technology at my fingertips . These pictures from Chatsworth in Derbyshire last weekend were snapped on my iPhone. 

I don't need special equipment to capture a reminder of a shared family Eastertime. And I was able to 
share the sun going down on Twitter , to delight my followers, should they happen to be looking. And some were. 

I don't know all or even most of my followers personally , nor can I be sure why they follow me. I follow about half of them back , and am confident that our shared interests have been reinforced and informed by being together on Twitter. I know that many people have taken up following @EastLondonGroup, having been charmed and intrigued by a retweet or posting of this wonderful art .
And it has been fantastic to meet fellow supporters in real life having got to know each other through Twitter. The "Sunday morning , Farringdon Road " posting has become a weekly ritual. 

Please don't miss a wonderful selection of the non- urban paintings at the "Out of the City" exhibition at the Beecroft Gallery in Southend, until late June. ( for more see last blog) 

But art and nature aren't the only topics that are shared on Twitter. As well as news and current affairs , I've discovered  the brilliant online magazine @standardissueuk  started by comedian Sarah Millican,  featuring wonderful women's writing . It is open, topical,quirky, entertaining ,supportive and challenging.  And I've read wonderful books as a direct result of Twitter recommendations. 


My interest in organisational leadership, social care , local government,NHS, health and wellbeing, dementia and Children's safeguarding , finds numerous excellent commentators sharing research and opinion.

 Inspirational campaigns share their early evidence and garner valuable support through this channel . The inestimable Dr Kate Granger (@grangerkate) devised and championed the #mynameis campaign and it will be just one part of her legacy when her terminal illness finally takes her life. 

When I was a serving Chief Executive I was accessible to councillors , staff, residents, fellow professionals and leaders in other organisations via Twitter.  I found this an invaluable tool for our improvement journey , a source of support and intelligence , and only sometimes ......slightly irksome! 

Of course, social media must be approached sensibly and sensitively. (I am guided by the test - would I be happy to announce my tweet in a pub, cafe or similar) . I am convinced that like so many of the accessible new technologies available to non- specialists , social media and Twitter in particular, has to be embraced as a force for good. It cannot be ignored by those running organisations. What's more it  allows us to connect, learn, be active, notice and give (CLANG) even if we are restricted by age,infirmity, or disability .

So let's end with another superb sky , this time back in Hove on Wednesday, and let's celebrate our ability to snap,share, learn and link . 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Pictures and words and all that jazz

Semi- retirement/working independently is giving me increased time to indulge my love of the creative arts,you might have noticed! And this week I savour a feast of art, theatre and books , starting with the wonderful @East London Group of painters. Until June 25th you can see the stunning "Out of the City" exhibition at Southend's Beecroft Gallery , curated by Alan Waltham . And it is well worth it. For those who follow me on Twitter you will have seen many of the images in my timeline. 
                         Alan Waltham 

But nothing compares to the real pictures of the Steggles brothers, their teacher John Cooper , and the other wonderful artists in this group of fine painters . Thanks go to Alan, and Janeta his wife, who is  the Steggles'neice , and David Buckman who researched the group and has just republished his book "From Bow to Biennale". As a result of their passion and dedication, the East London Group are enjoying a resurgence in interest, recognition and value for their work. And as an added bonus I have met all sorts of like minded appreciators of their art all through the medium of Twitter. You know who you are! 

    Chesil beach from Portland   Harold Steggles 1938


As well as my caring responsibilities , I mentor and advise on effective leadership, and remain committed to my public service values , determined to support colleagues in learning from best practice .
Twitter plays a big part in providing me , and indeed all of us, with a sharing and support platform. This week it marked its 10th anniversary and I for one applaud the fellowship of Twitter and the learning and friendship I have gained through this particular form of social media. 

This sculpture ,London Pride, by Frank Dobson, is one of my favourites and it graces the remodelled riverside entrance to the Royal National Theatre. It is one of the many delights of coming to the Southbank. 

In "Ma Raineys Black Bottom " currently playing at the Royal National Theatre , August Wilson  is challenging our perceptions of race ,gender and sexuality using the real life mother of jazz, " Ma Rainey" . Through firey dialogue and dedicated exploration of a clutch of characters , challenging issues are uncomfortably explored and beautifully sung and played . As a white member of a largely white, middle aged ,middle class audience , I felt disrupted,shocked , rocked at the violence of the language and ultimately , the plot. The leading actors were also musicians and I was in awe of their performances , each and every one. We were not served up an easy or hopeful ending , and the cast must have been exhausted by the emotion and physicality of the evening. The programme provided a story of the playwright which was no less interesting , and reinforced the characteristics I would expect given the phenomenal writing and thinking in the play - here was a determined , intellectually capable,curious and underestimated man ; a brilliant writer.  Try to see it if you can.

And then we come to the newly announced Makar ( Poet Laureate ) of Scotland, the fabulous Jackie Kay. She wrote this book "Trumpet " almost two decades ago, but I only got round to reading it this week. It's the story of a popular talented , dual heritage jazzman and loving husband , who is actually a woman . This revelation is beautifully explored from the perceptions of his wife, son and ultimately a journalist who sees herself writing an explosive book . The themes of gender, race and sexuality are so present and just like "Ma Rainey ", this story speaks meaningfully to us in 2016 . It does give hope, however. It is a story of love.

That's a reassuring message , especially on this day, 22/3/16 , which has seen more indiscriminate carnage as the result of terrorist attacks on Brussels . More than thirty are dead and many more are left with life changing injuries. Defiance ,hope and love are now finding expression across Europe. 

    The Eiffel Tower lit in the colours of Belgium as a show of solidarity 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Creative writing

As a prelude to Damien Barr's Literay Salon , we spent last weekend in south east London . It just so happened that it was Mothers Day and we were house guests of my daughter, her boyfriend and my eldest son. Mother's Day weekend included a choral concert ( see last blog), walks around Peckham Rye and Camberwell ; delicious tapas ; and being treated to the master bedroom rather than the sitting room floor! 

                    This mural on Choumert Road, is just one of the Southwark's visual gems .

And on Monday , sunny Brockwell park served up more delights to reinforce the coming of Spring with  a lovely walled garden , gorgeous budding Magnolia and bright horizon views of the city .


As well as enjoying London street and park life , our mission was to catch the Lee Miller exhibition at the Imperial War Museum . The timing was especially appropriate for the week of International Women's Day. My Christmas present " Lee Miller : A woman's war "  the book of the exhibition , had worked its magic and I was keen to see the exhibition . It did not disappoint and is on until 24th April. These photographs shine a light on the role of women through the Second World War , as well as giving testimony to the brilliance of Lee Miller (1907-77)  , an embedded war photographer and reporter. That her son only learnt of her war work after her death is shocking. 


                                        Night and Day , London ,1937 Roland Penrose 

The exhibition informed us that " Lee Miller met Roland Penrose , a leading British Surrealust artist,collector and curator ,while visiting Paris in 1937. Although both were already married ,they immediately became lovers. Their passionate,turbulent but highly creative relationship was informed by Surrealism and endured for the rest of Miller's life. .....Night and Day.... depicts Miller's personality as well as her physical features" . 

   The Imperial War Museum 

    Paul Nash ( 1889-1946 )    Battle of Germany 1944 

Outside the museum, as well as lovely gardens , we encountered an unmistakable piece of the Berlin Wall , with an example of punchy writing , acquired by the IWM in 1991. 


Our Monday evening was to bring us more creative culture in the form of Damien Barr's Literary Salon , newly moved to the Savoy . And in preparation for this we enjoyed the sun setting over Southbank from the window in the American Bar. 


What a fantastic line up we enjoyed , all different , all tempting us with their readings and interviews . Susan Calman , a comedian with a love of cats , a legal background and a struggle with depression, is one of the funniest voices on Radio 4 , and tantalised us with her memoir. 
Garth Greenwell's debut novel "What belongs to you" was beautifully read , and this poet won us over,tempting us to read his  book whose narrator explores his sexuality whilst teaching in Bulgaria.  

I had especially wanted to hear and see Joan Bakewell , who at 82 ,is as vibrant and vocal as ever. She did not disappoint and I enjoyed her reading from "Stop the Clocks", just as I did when it was "book of the week" on the radio .  Finally, Maggie O'Farrell discussed her new novel , "This must be the place" which will be published in May , and explores a marriage in "freefall" . I have never read Maggie before , but will start now.  

The Savoy has longstanding literary connections we learnt, and new ones were being forged in the Lancaster Ballroom on Monday at this sellout salon. 

            Damien Barr and Joan Bakewell 

As well as completing a 6 week Creative writing course this week with the excellent Araminta Hall, on Saturday I attended the first Beach Hut Academy Writer's conference. 

                  A sunny hazy seafront walk to the Conference , "Write by the Beach" 

With a packed agenda and a wonderful line up of published authors, literary agents and publishers this was a stimulating and informative day.  It had been brilliantly organised , and feedback has been universally positive.  And it all took place at the beautiful Angel House , a stunning Regency Town House venue on Brighton seafront . I learned a huge amount , met up with others interested in reading and writing , and was intimidated by the challenges of becoming a published writer . 

                                      Angel House 1 Brunswick Terrace, Hove BN3 1HN 

Inevitably , this has been a heavy book buying week too ! So there's even more reading to do , and more writing too.  

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Listening, learning together

Before I had left Brighton station to travel to the exciting Queen Elizabeth Park for what to you may seem a dull sounding  "Leadership Forum" on Thursday , I encountered a powerful manifestation of learning in action. During my ten minute wait I enjoyed the playing from Jeremy on the station piano. I told him how much I valued  this musical start to my day . He gave me a powerful insight into the joy of learning a skill, and being creative . As an adult he has learnt to play and compose on the piano .


Jeremy sometimes plays ( for free ) at the Grand , and is self taught. He doesn't regard himself as a pianist, but he's certainly a piano player . And learning by doing is giving him pleasure and meaning. I do hope he does find someone who can transcribe the recent composition he played me . Meeting him was inspiring.  I hope he comes across someone who can assist his musical development. Sadly I can't help with music; I can only appreciate it.
I was visiting the Olympic park for the first time since 2012 , and it was a real treat to experience the "Orbit" and to see this regenerated part of London flourishing. 

                                            The Orbit in the morning 

                                            The Orbit at dusk 

                                              London in the gloaming

In this impressive setting, which stands testimony to effective vision , investment and delivery, senior public servants came to listen and share. Assisted by business, voluntary sector and academia we reflected on leading in uncertain ,volatile, connected times . The conclusions of the day were reinforcing of the essentials of leadership : clear purpose, well articulated vision , shared commitment , positive values and expectations leading to a principled culture , motivated empowered people and thus effective outcomes. Follow our speakers on Twitter and read them for more substance .

    Sacha Romanovitch , Chief Executive of Grant Thornton 

    Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA 

   The space to listen,exchange,and think is something we all need . In my work now , I'm focussed on good leadership through mentoring, advising and assessing rather than heading up a big organisation, and I need this reflective learning opportunity quite as much as my colleagues. Our evening charity dinner allowed more networking,learning and catching up with friends and colleagues . 


When on Saturday night we listened to the Thames Chamber Choir in St Marks Church by Regents Park , I was  enchanted by the music (Thomas Tallis , Rachmaninov and more) with amazing sounds produced by human voices in harmony . I was also proud of Jordan now making his living from singing, conducting and teaching music . And my thoughts came back to Jeremy and whether he will benefit from the camaraderie of other musicians , and achieve his dreams . I hope so. 


Saturday, 27 February 2016

North and south

    Chatsworth park- sheep and deer 

Leaving behind the sea and shore of the south coast , last weekend we ventured north for a short break in our Campervan. In our sights were the haunts of our past life in the environs of Sheffield, S.Yorkshire , the biggest village in England (4th city after London, Brum and Leeds) . 
Just 25minutes drive from Sheffield, Chatsworth's campsite is beautifully situated with a gateway into the parkland surrounding the magnificent country house , it's farm and gardens. 

   Bridge over the River Derwent at Chatsworth 

   The gloriously bright crisp days and acres of parkland provided brilliant dog walks and a chance to revisit this magnificent estate whose house dates back to Bess of Hardwick in the 1560s. Its south and east fronts were extensively rebuilt in the late 1690s , with later additions in every century since. And the result is a very handsome country house , now owned by the 12th Duke of Devonshire. 



Though I'm a Londoner by birth, I'm the result of the union of my northeastern mother and south London father , and the pull of the north has always been strong for me . Indeed I've spent the majority of my adult years living in the North. So it was a delight to return to familiar favourite places, including Bakewell on market day. 

   Bridge at  Bakewell 

   On Tuesday we revisited  David Mellor's workshop and shop outside Hathersage , and then sampled the delights of the Plough , with its magnificent views over the Peak . 

  And of course jaunts to visit the family in Sheff were interspersed throughout our tour, bringing us happy play times with the grandchildren ( when prized from their iPads) and tasty meals with their parents. 

    Our final day was frosty and sunny ; Chatsworth park at its best . 

And so on Wednsday we left our Chatsworth idyll and set off on the long journey home, determined to appreciate both north and south, city and country.