Archive for July, 2010

I write like…?

July 23, 2010 2 comments

I write like
William Shakespeare

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Apparently, anyway. This is from I write like, a text analyser I found mentioned on The Nuppdate blog.

I tried my half-dozen most recent published pieces and got: Dan Brown, Stephen King (twice), William Shakespeare, William Gibson and Cory Doctorow. My last blog comes up as like David Foster Wallace, who I confess I’ve never read (or even heard of, until now).

It’s a fun thing but makes me wonder what it’s based on, in terms of reference materials and analytical criteria. For example, I put in the first three paragraphs of Andre Breton’s ‘Manifesto of Surrealism’ (1924) and it told me it was like Arthur Conan Doyle. More scarily, I also tried a page on crime prevention and antisocial behaviour from a local police website, to be told it was written in the style of Ray Bradbury. Perhaps fortunately it didn’t particularly specify Fahrenheit 451.

Oh, and a selection from the training course I’m updating – it was actually a segment on prisons policy, and I originally wrote it a couple of years ago – shows up as like H.P. Lovecraft…


On getting a hoody (and related things)

July 22, 2010 2 comments
Palm tree in the conservatory at the Barbican, London

Conservatory at the Barbican, London

I’ll explain the pic later…

Today I’m sitting at home checking URLs in a training package – about two-thirds are outdated so it’s slow going. Yesterday, however, I was in London to see my younger son get his new hoody.

By ‘hoody’, of course, I mean his academicals – the gown and hood worn for a graduation ceremony.

Afterwards we went for a meal just next to Smithfield market, in a place that appears to sell entire sides of beef on a plate. The place is only a few yards from the site of the now-disappeared Fortune of War public house, the centre of the ‘resurrectionist’ trade – the sale of stolen corpses for medical dissection – until the Anatomy Act 1832 cleaned up the whole business of obtaining cadavers for medical students to work on. There’s quite a lot more information on this, incidentally, on Wikipedia for the ghoulishly inclined.

Just to be on the safe side, I had the fish… and my son’s a vegetarian anyway.

When all the festivities were over I nipped back to the Barbican (where the ceremony had been) because their art gallery has an exhibition ‘The Surreal House’ that runs until 12 September. It seems to have attracted quite a lot of attention. It’s big (170-ish works) and several of the pieces are either installations that periodically do stuff, or video pieces that run for maybe 10-15 minutes.

I’ve had a long-time interest in surrealism, so this was an opportunity to see (or see again) a number of well-known pieces, and find some new treasures in particular, for me, the work of Joseph Cornell (miniatures of artworks inside carry cases), Maya Deren and Jan Švankmajer. The first item in the exhibition, incidentally, is an old Buster Keaton silent film – and looking at it in this context, it’s interesting see that much of the humour and even the direction and production of the film seems to owe a great deal to surrealist influences. Or maybe the surrrealists were influenced by Keaton? I don’t know. Something to explore further when I have time – I’m assuming there’s a literature on this somewhere!

Much of the exhibition reminded me of the old Guy Bachelard paper on ‘The Phenomonology of the House, from Cellar to Attic’ (something like that anyway: I could get the proper reference but I’m being lazy). It’s an exploration of moods, meanings, and desire – sexual desire, given the links between surrealism and psychoanalysis, but differentiated into many forms – and how they are influenced by, but also expressed in, architecture and design.

Anyway, it’s an intriguing exhibition and I’d highly recommend it if you can get there.

Finally, the reason for the pic at the top of this piece – it’s random, a shot of a palm tree in the Barbican conservatory, taken from the gallery cafe that overlooks it, after I’d overloaded on surrealism for a couple of hours. Make of it what you will!

The 90% rule

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a day of remembering the 90% rule.

The rule says: in any given project, the first 90% of the work takes up 90% of the time allocated. The remaining 10% of the work takes up the other 90% of the time.

I’d like to add my own twist to this: in developing and updating training materials, 90% of the work is ‘creative’ in the sense that it involves making judgements about whether material is still useful and relevant, adding in updates relating to new publications, etc. The other 90% of the work is the clerical stuff – making sure URLs are still valid and suchlike.

Such is the life of a freelancer.

Hopefully later this evening I’ll squeeze in a bit of time playing with duotrope, since I have a couple of stories written a while back I haven’t submitted anywhere.

Below, for the curious, is a picture of the inside of my brain as I reach the point of having 90% of the work done.

A cactus, highly modified in photoshop

Picture of the inside of my brain

[Pic courtesy of Chris Cafferkey – – see my blogroll for clickable link]

What I did on my holidays

July 13, 2010 1 comment

I’d hoped to finish a biggish project (revision/updating of some teaching materials) before the weekend, but hopefully it’s all done now.

Meanwhile, I had a long weekend – which is about as much holiday as I ever get these days – to decompress after quite a while of being plugged in to a computer 28 hours a day, 9 days a week until there was blood all over the keyboard.

We went to Yorkshire, camping with friends on Lime Tree Farm – this is a private site, not now a farm so much as a conservation project managed with the help of various communities including pagan friends of mine. Some of the people there this weekend had been involved, about 12-15 years ago I think, in building one of the few contemporary stone circles. I only had my mobile phone with me so quality’s not great, but here’s a picture:

Contemporary stone circle

Contemporary stone circle (the 'Crow Circle') at Lime Tree Farm, Yorkshire

Also on the site is a roundhouse:

Roundhouse, Lime Tree Farm, Yorkshire

Roundhouse, Lime Tree Farm, Yorkshire

Thatched circular hut

Roundhouse, Lime Tree Farm, Yorkshire

Animal skull over entrance of roundhouse

Animal skull over entrance of roundhouse

Basically I did not a lot during the days – reading, cooking, chatting – and at night we sat round a fire. I did a bit of drumming. It’s also a badly-kept secret I’m something of a firebug, and I did this:

Playing with fire

That's me in the middle

This one isn’t my pic – it’s courtesy of Chris Cafferkey.

Anyway – three and a bit days of break, and now I’ve caught up with myself and some old friends and taken some time out to relax and recharge, it’s back to my bad old ways. Unless being at Lime Tree counts as going back to my bad old ways, of course….

We need more Elmores!

July 3, 2010 Leave a comment

In the last week I’ve found out a great deal more about homelessness that I was hoping ever to have to know. This came about because the son of a friend of mine has just become homeless, having lost his private rented flat.

There’s a complex history to this, as you might expect. It revolves around this guy being ADHD, short attention span, bored, lonely, needing social interaction and not having much day-to-day support. In a nutshell he was ‘spotted’ by a bunch of drifters who realised he had something they could make use of – his flat. He was gullible enough to invite them home, they were manipulative enough to use it as a drinking den and then ran riot. When he ran into trouble with the landlord and tried to get them out, the vindictiveness started – burglary, smashed windows, people breaking in and refusing to leave, etc.

The landlord hasn’t been much help either. It’s not a ‘social landlord’ so they don’t have obligations to support tenants, and as best I can tell there’s been a certain amount of chicanery in terms of trying to get him to move out without actually issuing an eviction notice.

The result has been meetings with the local authority housing people, welfare rights, etc. etc. trying to negotiate a housing maze that revolves around whether he is ‘voluntarily’ homeless (I’d say the police incident numbers prove not) or otherwise. If he is, he can’t access locally authority controlled housing or hostels. Not that there are many places available anyway, and a long queue for them (and some of the people who caused the trouble in them…). However ‘supported’ accommodation is outwith the control of the local authority waiting lists so he’s potentially eligible – but even finding the trusts that run such places, checking their eligibility criteria, and sorting out applications is a huge job.

He has complex needs, which essentially amount to day-to-day support and patient, wise people who know how to get him motivated and arrange access to the services that can address at least some of his problems.

And this is where the Elmore thing comes in. In 1988-9, I was asked to be an in-house researcher to evaluate a then-new voluntary sector project in Oxford. Named for a local notable who had the original inspiration, the idea was for a small team of people who would deal with those who fell through the ‘cracks’ between agencies.

For example, it would arrange shared-care between two hostels, when people were challenging and regularly blew out their accommodation. If you could find two hostels and two people who were problematic, you could get an agreement to give each one a couple of weeks in one hostel and swap them over before they blew it. The new situation would help them remain stable and certainly give the staff in both places a respite.

When homeless mentally-disordered people were arrested and charged, the team would try to find temporary accommodation for them so they could be bailed, some attempt made to deal with their needs, and if necessary a worker dispatched to bring them to court so they didn’t forget the court date and wouldn’t then have an arrest warrant issued for non-appearance.

They were able to connect people to an outreach health team (which at that time ran out of a Portakabin on a night shelter car park, if I remember rightly) that dealt with underlying health issues – many of the homeless had, probably still have, conditions ranging from shingles to scabies to TB that often impaired their ability to even think straight – and also had a community psychiatric nurse who was experienced in locating homeless mentally ill people and getting them to take their medication so they wouldn’t end up doing stupid things that got them into court.

The bottom line was that the team didn’t itself offer much in the way of services but did enable people with complex needs and difficult problems to connect with agencies – it put together, jigsaw fashion, care packages in which each of a number of agencies agreed to take on a defined role in relation to part of the problem, against the assurance that other agencies were addressing other parts of the whole situation. It was person-orientated rather than agency orientated, and that was its strength.

And it worked.

But it was in Oxford, and my friend’s son isn’t.

I did the evaluation in 1988-9, on a short term contract, and then moved on. But I’ve just caught up with the Elmore thing again. It’s grown into Elmore Community Services (yes, that’s a link) and has expanded to deal with a much wider range of problems than it could tackle when it first started, such as antisocial behaviour and parenthood problems.

The original report I wrote (I still have a copy somewhere) clearly hasn’t survived the transition from print to online publishing, but obviously is just a little outdated now anyway. However there are several worthwhile and recent publications available on the website.

This whole experience with my friend’s son, and my memory of the early Elmore work, leaves me with this thought. We proved the Elmore concept worked, twenty years ago. It’s still there and still working. It must save all the agencies involved significant amounts of money by ensuring that people with complex needs actually get them addressed, don’t fall through gaps in service provision, don’t end up receiving unco-ordinated and ineffective care that breaks down every two minutes, and don’t end up going through the revolving door syndrome of repeated short prison sentences for stupid things they do when care breaks down.

So if it’s good for the people with these needs and arguably cost effective in the long run for all the agencies involved, why on earth isn’t there an Elmore type service in every city?

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