“Who is the Olympic legacy in Stratford for?”

The Londonist site asked the question, “Who is the Olympic legacy in Stratford for?” This was my response:

There are many aspects to this question, not all of which are obvious. Could the regeneration of the Park have happened without the games of 2012? Well, yes, it could. But it is hugely unlikely. 560 acres of neglected and grossly polluted land does not get sorted out on the basis of “perhaps”.

2 million tons of soil needed to be cleaned before anything else could be done because the place was pretty close to uninhabitable as a health hazard. Heavy organic chemicals, toxic metals, dumped cars, tyres and CFC-full fridges and freezers needed to be dealt-with. These and the soaked-in effluent of generations of unregulated chemical manufacture up to and including the rendering-down of animal carcasses does not scream “spend money on me” to developers.

It’s exactly the same scenario as the Millennium Dome. Uninformed people whine that it cost nearly a billion pounds to build that when in fact it only cost 50 million pounds. Most of the rest was spent cleaning up the area first.

Having cleaned the Olympic Park, and generally tidied it up by tearing down over 50 electricity pylons and burying the power cables underground, the stage was empty, but ready. In my view there is no way that private money would have done that and spending that much public money without some sort of tangible public benefit would rightly have caused outrage.

So, we held the Olympics as the cornerstone of a carefully-considered and well-constructed regeneration and planned legacy programme. The concept of anticipated repurposing was used everywhere. Temporary venues prepared the way for future communities.

Three schools have already opened on the Park with several more about to, thousands of homes have been built and again, many more on the way. Tens of thousands of jobs are being created or moved into the area with the resultant kick to the local economy. The elite athletes’ medical centre is now a world-class NHS facility serving the wider local community. I know – my doctor is based there.

Six million visitors a year enjoy the parkland where before there was just dangerous stinking wasteland. The whole area has become the lungs of East London. 4,000 more trees planted in the last couple of years, wetlands, meadows, flowering areas all add up to a noticable drop in local pollution levels. Quality of life has dramatically improved, not just for people who live in the new homes but millions of others too.

We have world-class sports venues that are used by the public every day – over a million a year go for a swim in the Aquatics Centre, for example. Community engagement is a key factor. The Park volunteer system has over 600 people who help out with various elements of Park life – looking after parklands in conservation work, monitoring the growing wildlife population, helping at major events by assisting visitors and running the information point and one of the best park mobility services in the country.

Asking if the legacy has produced the expected results is always going to generate a lot of different answers. If you were employed in one of the smelly chemical plants then you’ll probably be annoyed at it closing. If you live outside London you may well ask what “your” money (which is actually London’s money, as we paid for it) has done to benefit you. If you were expecting a nation of lardarses to suddenly start doing weekly 10k runs, you were never going to find the results encouraging.

However: if you’re one of the six million people a year who bother to go there and find out for yourself what it is all about, I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be back.

There has never been an Olympic legacy like London’s. It is by far the most successful planned legacy ever.

The games were a huge success. The aftermath even more so, in my opinion.

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Brexit. The Moron’s Last Hurrah

Ah, Brexit. Someone on the leave side decided that people who voted to remain were ignorant. So I asked:

Really? Ignorant, eh?

Okay, oh informed one: there are many facets of UK life that will be directly impacted by the Brexit decision. I have thoughts on each of the following categories, but would value your carefully-considered opinions on how Brexit will impact:

Trade balance, Interest rates, Unemployment, Exchange rates, Farming subsidies, Food prices, Inflation, Immigration, Expatriot British people living in Europe, Scientific research, Higher education, Cross-border technology, Pan-european businesses, Export and import tariffs, Global businesses like banking and financial services?

I expect that since you voted to leave, you must have carefully considered at the very least each of these areas.

So: over to you…

My answers:

Trade balance – Stay in: much as it is now. Leave: both imports and exports drop significantly leading to an increased need for self-sufficiency. This will lead to price increases across the board and inflation rises too.

Interest rates – Stay in: remain very low. Leave: will need to rise to counter the drop in currency values. This will mean more expensive mortgages and credit cards and will trigger a spiral in debt.

Unemployment – Stay in: no change, it is currently statistically insignificant. Leave: short term, a small drop as EU nationals leave. Long term, unemployment will rise as costs rise / profits fall and companies have to make cutbacks.

Exchange rates – Stay: no change beyond normal daily fluctuations. Leave: Pound will continue to fall, dropping below 1 Euro. This will trigger significant interest rate rises (see above).

Farming subsidies – Stay: no change, they will continue at their current high levels. Leave: They will disappear totally, meaning food price rises (see below) and rising numbers of farms going bust.

Food prices – Stay: no change, remaining at current low levels. Leave: dramatic increases caused by loss of farm subsidies and by trade tariffs.

Inflation – Stay: no impact, remains at or around 2-3% for a while dropping back after a couple of years. Leave: dramatic increase caused by wage inflation, food price increases and import tariffs.

Immigration – Stay: no impact. Leave: after an initial outflow of a few EU citizens and inflow of expat Brits, no impact. Either way, it will always be far higher than Leave voters want.

Expatriot British people living in Europe – Stay: no impact, free to live and work wherever they want. Leave: visa requirements and removal of rights to live and work. Many will opt to return to the UK which will more than counter the loss of EU citizens leading to an increase in UK benefit and healthcare costs.

Scientific research – Stay: no impact, current multinational research projects will continue and new ones start. Leave: Scientific research will be decimated as EU funds disappear, companies opt for EU bases instead of UK ones and the UK government continues to refuse to fund research.

Higher education – Stay: no impact as universities continue to benefit from funding that non-UK students bring to the system. Leave: universities left with huge funding shortfalls as foreign students choose not to come here. This will lead to demands to increase the amount the UK students pay. Universities and colleges will close.

Cross-border technology – Stay: no impact. Leave: with the drying up of research and the financial pressures on universities, companies will increasingly choose to limit themselves to the free-flowing EU rather than risk the isolationist UK.

Pan-european businesses like Airbus and Unilever – Stay: no impact, companies will continue to trade and base headquarters where it best suits them. Leave: companies will, of course, with difficulty continue to trade with the UK, but headquarters (and therefore tax revenue) will not be based here. Airbus will move its wing-making business to Germany and shut its UK operation.

Export and import tariffs – Stay: no EU tariffs, no major non-EU ones either. Leave: tariffs on everything from and to everywhere. Loss of competitive advantage for UK-based companies and instantly higher prices for all imports into the UK. An instant spike in inflation.

Global businesses like banking and financial services – Stay: no impact, London will continue to be a global and highly profitable leader in these businesses. Leave: banks have already started opening and staffing operations in Frankfurt and Paris. This will accelerate with a significant loss to the UK in tax revenue and credibility. After a decade or so, the UK financial business will be dealing mostly with domestic issues and will have ceased to be a significant global presence. The tax revenue loss of this will be significant.

Then, someone asked why remainers were so keen to give up self-determination. Again, I answered:

Define self-determination? What does that actually mean?

The Brexit morons keep banging on about sovereignty and control in their simplistic, rather recursive way, but none – absolutely none – have given any thought about what it actually means.

We’re given a vote every four or five years (or every eighteen months or so under the current clueless administration) and we go away afterwards, so very proud, patting ourselves on the back for having played our part in this great, ancient and noble democracy we have. Then, after an evening spent watching Paxman whitter on as though he knows what he’s talking about, we start to bitch about how the people we elected never do what we want, seem more interested in personal gain than collective good and we shrug our shoulders and get on with our lives the same as we did a week before.

The truth of the matter is that those who blather on about control and sovereignty are delusional fools. They have no control. They never have had. Proles like them are not given control, they are merely given the illusion of it.

Those of us with a functioning brainstem know this and therefore have to decide upon the better of a number of deeply flawed systems.

The choice is actually really simple. We are a tiny, insignificant island nation with few natural resources except a small collection of people who are good with numbers and a large collection of lazy, over-entitled and benefit-addicted fools.

On the back of that smaller population, we have built a global banking industry and have the world’s best programmers. We got there first in both of these areas and got a head start over others. Since we built these industries up, others came to us and based their businesses here out of convenience. They have their own bright, clever people, but it is less effort to use ours at the moment.

Now what we’re doing is closing those doors. We’re making it less convenient, more expensive and considerably less appealing for others to use our services.

We’re setting fire to our own bedding.

So other people are moving their business away – tens of thousands of banking jobs have already gone, high-tech industries are investing elsewhere and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The sad – bone-deep sad – thing about the Brexit morons claim to want control and leadership and independence and sovereignty, is that we already had it. We already had it and they were all too fucking dumb to notice. The very thing that they claim to want is the very thing they are setting out to destroy.

As part of a free-flowing Europe, we were a big player at the head table. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, but we were there with the best of them and we made a difference.

Now, we have been shown to be exactly what we are. Insular, arrogant, insecure, insignificant, small, disposable and yes, racist. Was what we had the best? No, far from it. But it was so very much better than what we are heading for.

Obscurity is a pathetic way to end a proud country’s history. To deliberately choose that is shameful.

Democracy is a very poor system. It relies upon an educated and informed electorate to work properly. We have do not have that. Nobody has.

Yes, drunk women do put themselves at risk.

Kelly Brook is under fire for saying that drunk women put themselves at risk. She’s being accused by the usual motorgobs of victim-blaming.

Kaye Adams in response said that she was wrong and that you have to start from a position of trust.

Adams is wrong and Brook is right. It would be the other way round if we lived in a perfect world and the only consequences of getting blind drunk were a hangover and a big bar bill.

Feel free to provide evidence to the contrary, but it would be my strong assertion that we do not live in a perfect world. It would be lovely if we did, but we don’t.

Therefore, in any aspect of living, not just this, everything becomes a matter of risk management. We have to ask ourselves if what we are doing puts us at a higher level of risk than we find acceptable.

Again, I am happy to listen to evidence to the contrary, but it would be my assertion that young women getting blind drunk then heading home by themselves are putting themselves at a (far) higher risk than they would ordinarily consider acceptable. Because we do *not* live in a perfect world and there *are* nasty and dangerous people out there.

Starting from a position of trust is naïve and a luxury we cannot yet afford.

So yes, Brook is right. It’s a shame that she is right, but that does not make her any less right.

#NotMeToo

There isn’t a gay person on the planet that hasn’t been the target of some sort of abuse in their life. We all know that.

From that perspective, I can’t help but wonder what the current “#MeToo” fad is actually achieving, beyond providing some treasured sense of shared victimhood. Is there anything meaningfully positive that will result from this mass movement, or is it all just temporary background noise that will eventually fade leaving no trace? 

My suspicion, of course, is that is exactly what will happen. Nothing. Like all the trendy outpourings on social media, it doesn’t mean anything. It will achieve nothing. It is, really, just a pointless exercise in posturing, groupthink and fashion-following, waiting to be replaced by next week’s outrage / mourning / tragedy porn… 

I’m sure that the motives are good ones, but these things come along so frequently nowadays that they are like episodes of X Factor, and just as disposable. Primark empathy, one pointless hashtag at a time… 

#JeSuisCharlie #BlackLivesMatter #OrlandoStrong #Remain #StrongerTogether #LasVegasShooting #TrendingNow

It always feels great to be part of a “movement”, doesn’t it? That sense of belonging, of shared objectives and feelings. 

I felt the same when we all crowded into Old Compton Street after Orlando, or into Trafalgar Square after the Ian Baynham murder. We’re all together. Never again.

Of course, it’s never “never again”, is it? Nothing changes and that transient collectivism fades rapidly as other causes attract our attention. My feeling is that this is no different to any other modern day “cause”.

I’ve been wolf-whistled on the street. Is that sexual harassment? 

What about being chatted up by a drunk cougar in a bar when I didn’t want to be? 

How about having my bollocks grabbed by pissed members of a hen party in a gay pub? 

They’ve all happened to me. Everyone, of any and all genders, has had some sort of sexual harassment in their lives. So? Does that make us all victims? Does that make us all in some way worthy of applause and approbation? 

No, of course not. I just want to know what all this attention-seeking is going to achieve, because at the moment I can’t see that it’s achieving anything apart from jumping on the Weinstein bandwagon. “I’m a victim too, don’t forget me”

I refuse to be a victim. I am stronger than that. I have plenty of demons of my own and I will deal with them in my own way. 

What makes me more than a little contemptuous of this whole nouveau-victim movement is that it seems to stratify into a hierarchy of victimhood. “I’m more deserving of attention than you, get behind me.” People seem to be outdoing themselves to be worthy of sympathy (and more frequently these days, compensation) than everyone else. 

Professional victims is a phrase that I use quite frequently and it gets more accurate every day.
The other side of all this Hashtag Handwringing is the opportunity to wallow retrospectively. You see this all the time on anniversaries of events. 

The thing is, it’s almost never about those events, but always about those that are left. Hillsborough, 9/11, The Admiral Duncan, even Remembrance Sunday are more about those attending (in the latter case, usually including me) than anything else. A desire to be collectively associated with something seen as dignified and respectful in order to be seen in that reflection. 

It’s a perfectly normal human need, this desire for association, but it is still a little parasitic.

Bloggers get on my tits.

Bloggers get on my bloody tits, they really do. 

Just because they have a bit of free Internet space that they can’t resist filling with self-serving narcissistic bullshit and selfies that expose vastly more flesh than is appropriate, doesn’t make them a fitness guru, a nutritionist, a model, a shining example to women/fats/gays/[insert convenient “oppressed“ minority here], or a campaigning icon. 

It doesn’t make them an expert in anything, it doesn’t give them credibility or validation and it certainly doesn’t mean that other people need to take them seriously. It just means that they are a motor-gob with a hugely over-inflated sense of their value in the world. 

The X-Factor generation, where the anticipation that easy and totally unjustified fame and fortune is not only possible but expected, have taken over and journalism has been replaced by millions of little vanity videos. 

It used to be bad enough when this sort of thing was limited to addicts of high-caffeine energy drinks, but now every illiterate, incoherent moron seems to feel the need to broadcast to a disinterested world their every bowel movement. 

Stop it. Just stop it. [Copies and pastes text into my blog…]

“Education is bad for America”

Newsweek published an article suggesting that the majority of Americans feel that education is bad for America:

Kind of makes sense, I suppose. 

America is a capitalist, authoritarian society. For such a society to work effectively, a large percentage of the population has to be easily manipulated and controlled. 

Education undermines that. Education makes people question, analyse and examine their surroundings. It makes people doubt the status quo, look for better solutions and gives them the tools to enact change. All of this goes completely against what America requires to work effectively. 

For those élite who run the country, the ideal American is one who is intelligent enough to perform the menial tasks required of them, but not so intelligent as to question why they are not seeing much of a return for their efforts. So the answer comes in a multi-pronged form: low education standards, high reliance upon propaganda from state-sponsored bodies like churches and law enforcement, and a media bias that borders on brainwashing. 

Combine that all with a constant and very useful state of fear – America is by far the most fearful nation on the planet, and that’s a great way to control its population – and a vastly exaggerated sense of patriotism that goes well beyond jingoism (what’s with all the flags? Do they keep forgetting where they are?) pushed by state news services like Fox and there we have it: A usefully stupid population that pretty much guarantees that the status quo will be maintained for those at the top getting rich at the expense of everyone else. 

Convince such a stupid people that they and their country represent the best in the world and the system is almost self-sustaining. To try to do something different is unpatriotic and un-American. 

Convince this nation of drones that their country is actually highly individualistic, and the idea of suggesting systemic change becomes positively treasonous.

The sad thing is that although this corrupt and corrupting system is far worse under Republicans, it is still sustained under Democrats too.

Out here in the rest of the world, we look towards America and wonder what it must be like to only have a choice between far-right and extreme-right options.

And we feel pity.

Volunteering and Team Leadership

A Facebook group of which I used to be a member was gearing up for a major sports event, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on the difficult task of team leadership…

If I might be so bold – a few thoughts on team leading…

I have over the years seen some awful examples of team leading and, on occasion, made the same mistakes myself. I have no idea what the team leader training involves this time around, but may I offer a few words of advice to those of us who have been asked to team lead or who have aspirations in that direction

The key is in the job title. Team leader. Not team manager. A leader leads from the front, not manages from the rear. We are not the paramilitary wing of the 2017 event! I have seen some terrible team leaders who try to schedule everything down to the last second. They invariably failed and just came across as patronising, condescending, ineffective and out of their depth.

A good team leader know that they have only one real job to do – to keep their team working effectively. This means that you have to make sure your team is happy, feels safe and secure, know that you are constantly monitoring their wellbeing and can deal with any issues they give to you. But it also means that you recognise that they are adults, not children, and are able and willing to make decisions of their own about how best to perform their role.

There should be no member of a team that walks further during a shift than the team leader as you constantly visit each team member to make sure they’re okay. If it’s a long shift, make sure that you rotate individuals around various positions during that time – there is nothing more disheartening to a volunteer than being put somewhere and then left there like a slowly sinking, forgotten boat in the corner of a harbour.

Breaks and refreshment are vital. Loo breaks are up to volunteers to manage themselves, this isn’t an area that benefits from micromanagement, trust me! Be clear in your briefing about this. Make sure the volunteers know what to do about getting water. Food and mid-shift breaks will need a bit of a scheduling effort, but it is my experience that if you tell people how you would like it managed, it generally looks after itself. If you simply tell people that, for example, their positions must remain occupied during breaks and that breaks must be no more than a certain length, so please can they arrange within their local volunteer groups to go in such a way that it happens that way, the vast majority will be glad of the flexibility. It is not necessary to schedule breaks to the minute. That just causes resentment. On your first walk-around, check that each group has sorted this out. If not, remind them to.

2017, like all big events these days, strives to be as inclusive as possible. It is likely that you will have a few team members with requirements that differ from average. You need to make sure that you identify these right at the beginning of the shift and without patronising the volunteers, make allowances and adjust processes to make sure that they get the same enjoyable experience everyone else does. Remember that disabilities are not limited to mobility issues. It’s a lot more complex than that.

The key to dealing with this well as a team leader is the briefing at the beginning. This is your chance to set the tone for the shift and to give the team some confidence that you know what you’re doing and that you have their welfare foremost in your mind. Be clear about their roles, gather any exception information like special needs or requirements, tell them what you will be doing and how they can get in touch with you. Really emphasise that your job is to look after them and that they are to call you if they have any problems.

A distant or invisible team leader is of no use whatsoever. Tell them that you plan to visit them several times during the shift. Tell them what your plan is to rotate them around your areas. But also tell them that from time to time, things don’t go to plan and since we are dealing with the Great British Public, we should also expect the unexpected.Above all, don’t micromanage! If you’re doing that, it means you’re not focussed on being a team leader. Your job isn’t to do your volunteers job, it’s to make sure that they are happy doing the job they signed-up to.

Things won’t always go smoothly. Don’t expect it to. But don’t panic when your carefully-constructed mental picture of how your shift will run goes right out of the window. Just prioritise and deal with it, delegating if necessary (upwards is usually the best way). But never lose sight of what your team’s needs are.

Too many people who have been professional managers in their work life sign up to be team leaders thinking that it is going to be the same. It isn’t. There are far too many really bad managers out there in the commercial world who are focussed on the company not on their team. A volunteer team leader’s focus has to be the other way around and the transition from one to the other is never easy. (Of course, if you’re a good commercial manager, it will be seamless because you’re doing it right in the first place).

By the same token, you will get the occasional nightmare volunteer. The professional complainer, the star-struck selfie addict, the wannabe team leader that “knows better than you”, the rampant media whore – they come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, they can be far more time-consuming to deal with than their contribution warrants. But don’t forget that you have the final say. If they are disrupting your team, send them home. Never be afraid to do that.

So, in summary: Be clear in your own mind what your job is. Brief well but keep it light. Manage expectations and be clear about exceptions. Be positive and up-beat, make sure that your team knows you want them to have a good time and double, triple-check that they know how to find you at any time. Tell them you want to know about any issues immediately and that after the shift is too late to sort out a problem. And most of all, be visible to everyone on your team, always.

This seemed to go down quite well with the group membership. One asked about volunteering itself, to which I responded..

I could probably write a PhD dissertation on an analysis of volunteer motivation! 

Over the years working with teams of volunteers on the Olympic Park and as part of Team London, I have come across so many different types of people and different styles of working as volunteers. I listed what I consider to be the worst attributes above in the nightmare volunteers bit – and I have known (and fallen out with!) examples of each.

The best ones are the opposite of those. The best ones are the ones that know that it is important that their efforts contribute to a better experience for other people rather than themselves, who get their reward from seeing someone else’s day improved through their efforts rather than any direct glory for themselves, who know that they are a small part of a big team and it’s how the whole team works together that makes the difference.

The best volunteers adapt and change to dynamic circumstances rather than let things fall apart around them but at the same time when something isn’t going right are not afraid to ask for advice or assistance. The best volunteers are those that take time before working on an event to familiarise themselves with where they’re going to be working, have read and re-read their training notes and who listen to their pre-shift briefings. Those people hit the ground running and do a great job right from the first shift.

I don’t know how others feel about new volunteering experiences, but I always get very nervous before starting something new, and the bigger the role or event the worse that is. I still get twitchy thinking about the Lumiére event from early last year. I always find that spending a few hours in Wikipedia or looking online at maps or browsing through organisers’ web sites and so on is time very well spent. 

A couple of the volunteers I work with regularly carry little notebooks with them, and this is a brilliant idea. A lady I’m working with on Monday does this. In those notebooks they put all the stuff that caught their eye in their preparation, any key briefing points for that day and interesting or relevant stuff that occurs during their shift. That level of preparation means that they are already tuned-into what they need for their day so they can enjoy it all the more. I certainly plan to do that for these athletics events. 

Give me ten well-prepared, adaptable and properly-motivated volunteers any day over a hundred “alpha volunteers” who have been doing it for years and “know best”. If a volunteer is doing their role looking for praise, applause, attention or to stalk some celebrity somewhere, then they need to re-examine their motivation. Because people like that drag an event down when they should be building it up. I have no time at all for “queen bee” volunteers who think they are the most important person there.

I suppose it’s about perspective. Yes, we’re all volunteers because we get something out of it. Of course we are, that’s perfectly normal and right. If that something is the satisfaction of being a valuable part of something bigger than you, that works as well as it possibly can and that contributes in a positive way to society as a whole and the visiting and watching public in particular then that is absolutely spot-on.

If you’re in it for the glory, then go and be a politician, because volunteering isn’t for you.

Successful volunteering is about getting the small things right. If at the end of a shift you can think of a handful of occasions when someone has headed away from you being grateful and with a smile on their face, or able to do something they didn’t think they could do, then that is a good shift. If someone heads away after you’ve helped them and they’re excited about being here and are sharing your enthusiasm and positivity about their day, then that is a good shift. If people, tired but happy, head home after a busy day and quietly think to themselves “those volunteers were bloody good”, then that is a good shift.

Because it’s about them, not us, in the end.

All, of course, just my opinion! 🙂