Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

A & M

I’ve been spending the weekend at the Krakow Film Festival in Poland. While I was in the hood I thought I’d have a go at finding my great-grandparents’ house which is somewhere in a town about 50km East of Krakow. My grand-mother died a few years ago in London and with her went the address. So all I had to go on, beside the name of the town, was a description, based on memories of 75 years ago, of how my distant cousin (of my father’s generation) used to get to the house from the train station with all the timings in horse and cart terms; a rough memory of a street name from the Communist era incorporating the glorious name of papa Stalin; and A&M – the letters of my great-grandparents’ first names which (the one concrete fact) were on a shield or crest high on the house.

So I set off, with my older son, at 10 this morning in some wheels organised by Adam, one of the friendly admins of the Dragonforum documentary workshop. You’re into rural Poland within minutes of leaving the city centre. I was nervous for some reason – I knew we had very little to go on and my phone research of the previous day had drawn blanks and stonewalling, I didn’t want to disappoint or be disappointed or lose the link with the family home where eggs were kept in sinks in the basement and from which my grandmother set off on rides on the first bicycle in the town. Scraps of stories, not quite accurate, Chinese whispered through the family, filtered by old age and post-war reticence.

I started with my Hamburg cousin’s three quarters of a century old description of the 15 minute cart ride from the nearest station (which bore another name than the town). We got out where my best guess was, combining the description (sent via Facebook, fairplay to Anni for being so wired at her age) and Googlemaps. I’d been told the crest was near a balcony and the building on a corner. The first corner looked promising but no initials. The diagonally opposite corner looked equally possible. More or less every balconied building felt warm – the right age of building, crying out for a crest. After 40 minutes of searching the confidence was ebbing. I rang my dad’s cousin who had found and visited the house in the mid 80s but didn’t know the address. Nor whether the house was in fact on a corner. And doubted there was a balcony as the owner had spotted him and called down from a window. So all I had left was the initialed crest. And the owner in the 80s’ name – which was not in the phonebook. And the Stalin street scrap.

We trawled every main street (three) of the sleepy Sunday town whilst the inhabitants stood around the church listening to the amplified service playing I imagine to a packed house of God-fearing Catholics inside. I know my great-grandmother was killed in this town in the view of others and I pictured it in the under-reconstruction main square with its piles of cobbles, mass drifting over and my strapping half Irish-Catholic son standing with unconscious strength on its new stones in his Leinster top, blue as the sky.

No joy. So we hit the back streets. Not a crest, shield or initialled plaque in the place. It was getting hotter. 26 degrees the day we arrived, 12 the next day, back over 20 today, fluctuating like my confidence in finding this link. We passed a corner shop. Junior needed a Coke (why do they mainly sell Pepsi in this country being one of his preoccupations of the weekend). My other half had given one piece of advice at the outset of the day by text – talk to people. I talked to the middle-aged female shop keeper, she had a bit of English (unlike the old lady on the corner I’d just tried). Do you know where there used to be a video sklep? (I’d heard that sometime in or after the 80s the ground floor had been turned into a video store). Or do you know where Stalingradska was in the Commiedays? She asked a local fella hanging out by her doorway. A contrary barman from the opposite corner approached. The shopkeeper urged them to help. They went off into Andrej’s bar to find an old map. We waited expectantly. A break? They failed to reappear, the shopkeeper chased, they reluctantly got their shit together, had a quick somewhat heated debate and eventually, again at the helpful shopkeeper’s urging, the hanging-in-the-shop fella started to lead us off to where they’d concluded the Stalin street used to be. We followed in silence, he spoke little English, we spoke less Polish (like not a single word except Sklep, Alkohole and Computery – this last and first turned out to be on the money). Down one of the three bigger streets we’d already tried then off to the left, pulling up on a three way junction, he indicated a not particularly old corner house. I asked him which of the three joining streets was the Stalin one, gave him a few zloty which he was reluctant to take, then walked the length of that street as well as exploring the junction. Nada. We found ourselves back behind the now deserted church. Mission failed. I’d sent some vibes to my grandmother looking for help (I was her favourite first-born after all) but to no avail. So, cut along the side of the church back to the rendez-vous with Machek our taxiguy? Or one last look at that Stalin junction? I dragged us back to the junction, then retraced our steps earlier with the shop-hanger guide… Then out the corner of my eye I spot the only crest in town. A. M. A swirly L for Laub conjoining them. What a moment of pure soaring joy. “That’s the first time I’ve seen a prayer answered” says A and L’s great-great-grandson.

We contemplate the letters. Look at the door (beside the Computery Sklep) but there’s no bell and it looks pretty unihabited. I spot something in the red brick beside the door – some scratched graffti dated June 1922. My grandmother’s childhood era. Any more? No, but high up, not easily noticed, a bell. I ring. Nothing. Then some movement. A boy the age of my son comes to the door. After a bit of explanation (and he had heard tell of the strange Englishman Marcel’s 1980s visit) he cautiously let us in, his parents weren’t around, and allowed us to get a feel for the place with its high but shallow rooms. I didn’t push to see the egg basement.

We headed back up the hill to the square. I now knew for sure Dora’s feet had pounded this trail. And I felt she’d be pleased we’d made the effort to see the place she spoke of with affection til her last days despite what had happened there. I was glad to have brought their great-great-grandson to be seen by A & M and to have joined that link.

Enemy of Carlotta: Coleman Balls

Enemy of Carlotta #127

Coleman faces new row over his taxi expenses

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 {courtesy of Barnet & Whetstone Press}

By Mary McConnell

Councillor Brian Coleman

Even Boris is ashamed of this pussy

Controversial councillor Brian Coleman has been blasted after he claimed £3,480 in expenses for taxis last year – including £140 to take his mother to a formal event.

Mr Coleman, Barnet Council’s cabinet member for the environment, made the claims for journeys carried out in his role as chairman of the London Fire And Emergency Planning Authority, which runs the London Fire Brigade.

In September last year Mr Coleman claimed £140.55 for the cost of two taxis that took his mother to memorial services for firefighters at St Paul’s Cathedral and at St Bartholomew The Great Church in east London.

The £3,480.20 expenses clocked up by Mr Coleman last year dwarfed the claims made by his LFEPA colleagues.

Deputy leader Maurice Heaster, who claimed £1,156.22, was the only other member to claim more than £1,000 in expenses, while 11 members did not claim any expenses at all.

Mr Coleman has been in the firing line over his expenses before. In 2008 he lodged a claim of more than £8,000, which earned him the nickname “Grab-a-cab Coleman”.

Vicky Morris, from Barnet Alliance For Public Services, told The Press: “The bill is not as big as in 2008 so I suppose he has managed to get it down.

“Mr Coleman expects a level of comfort that most of us don’t demand in life.

“He is a man with expensive tastes. The problem is we have become numb to it but this serial greed will have to catch up with him at some point.

“Taxis for his mother is just taking the mickey. He just has this sense of entitlement and thinks that he is a very important man so that means he should be able to stick his mother in a taxi at taxpayers’ expense.

“He has got no sense of embarrassment about it but I think he will come a cropper in the London Assembly elections next year.”

According to a spokesman for the London Fire Brigade, members of the authority should only use taxis as a matter of urgency or when no public transport was reasonably available.

A spokeswoman for London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “The mayor is disappointed with Mr Coleman. He does not approve of his extravagant expenses and has made this clear to him.

“Only members of the London Fire And Emergency Planning Authority, however, can tighten the expenses regime relevant here. We’d encourage them to do so.”

Mr Coleman was unavailable for comment.

Servicing the Health Service

Here’s an interesting article from a perspective inside the NHS about my current project ‘Diagnosis Live from the Clinic’ and how it relates to the necessary reform of the NHS and the prerequisite innovation around its service delivery. It is written by Sophia Christie, Chief Executive of NHS Birmingham East and North, who is on assignment to the Department of Health, and was published in the Health Service Journal at

Wired in: digital service delivery can put healthcare into the home

The success of new technologies in major sectors such as retail and travel has put control and convenience in the hands of the consumer. Why then is the health sector not thinking “digital by default”?

Over the last decade, service content and delivery in travel, banking and retail has made a radical shift to the phone and the web, at the greater convenience and control of the consumer.

With this as the context for the rest of our lives, using the health service is becoming an increasingly frustrating experience for many people. In 2009, there were 450 million clinical interactions in the NHS, costing £42bn. Face-to-face interactions made up 84 per cent of the activity and 98 per cent of the cost. Costs and use have continued to rise, but proportions of face-to-face activity have remained steady.

“Digital by default” may have been adopted as a design principle across government, but in the NHS we don’t think to offer contact other than as face to face, even for administrative activity. Much of our contact with services is more transactional.

Recent discussions in response to the white paper and consultation on the information strategy have highlighted three goals, which should underpin the relationship between the NHS and the citizen if we are to sustain our position as dearly beloved British institution with a new generation of users:

  • People should feel in control of their health and care, as citizens and members of communities;
  • Accessible, accurate information should support informed choice and greater safety;
  • Services should be multi-channel to enable convenience, efficiency and effectiveness.

The three are clearly inter-related; we are unlikely to feel “in control” if we cannot routinely access information about our own care, or have to reorganise our working day for the convenience of the outpatients department. The NHS has a track record in the adoption of new clinical technology, but we need to apply this innovation to the process of service delivery.

On 25 May, a new series begins on Channel 4, Diagnosis: Live from the Clinic. Produced by Maverick TV, it builds on the success of the Embarrassing Bodies series and the groundbreaking “NHS Local” digital service they developed with NHS West Midlands. The series will feature live consultations with doctors using Skype to support discussion of a range of minor and common conditions.

Channel 4 is set to expand its audience into a slightly older, more family oriented group than the Embarrassing Bodies viewers. That series was backed up with an increasingly interactive and popular website, where viewers have been able to link into self-tests for a range of conditions, and signposting on to services.

Maverick reports that in two months the My Healthchecker app has been used 650,000 times, and the website recently passed 10 million visits.

Diagnosis: Live from the Clinic proposes to go further, supporting individual consultations on the site after each programme, based on NHS Direct algorithms, with the potential to link to NHS Direct as appropriate. The service has been able to schedule its workload in anticipation of a surge of interest in certain conditions following each broadcast.

The use of Skype will cause us to reflect on why we don’t routinely plan for these types of consultation, or exploit the potential of text and email for queries and routine communications. We need to understand those who are digitally excluded, but in 2009 more than 80 per cent of adults had a mobile phone, and 31 per cent of these had web access. Meanwhile, 73 per cent of homes have internet access. There is a huge opportunity here for technology to support the home as the hub of care.

Some situations will require face to face, but opening up alternative channels for more transactional activity will release time and space for those who really need that. Older people are the lowest users of the internet, but the fastest growing group, and their children and carers are web savvy.

Policy in this area is still developing, and will rightly be subject to lively internal and public debate. But our public are changing, and if we cannot serve them effectively, others will do it instead.

{courtesy of the Health Service Journal  }

Marriage made in hell

Some class stuff from B3ta’s homepage courtesy of Smallbrainfield, Mystery Shopper and Gronkpan

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