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Friday, 27 March 2020

The NHS Volunteer Army - Challenge for the RVS

A few days ago, the NHS and the Prime Minister put out a call for 250,000 volunteers to "help  up to 1.5 million people who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions" There's been an enormous response, they've got twice as many volunteers as they asked for and at a guess, 3-4 times as many as they hoped for.

The job of organising everything has been given to Royal Voluntary Service which older readers will remember as the WRVS. This is probably a good choice as with their background in providing "Meals On Wheels" there's a lot about the current mission that they should thoroughly understand.

It's noteworthy that one of the roles they want  volunteers for is to make phone calls to people isolated by COVID-19, a role that can be open to just about everyone - including those whose health or disability precludes rushing around delivering food.

Perhaps the most significant challenge will be coping with the huge level of volunteer response. The demand for the various services may be quite low to start with and while that might sound like a good thing, keeping volunteers "sensibly busy" is a keystone of  good volunteer management. If volunteers are given too little opportunity to actually contribute, they can become disillusioned with the mission, the RVS and volunteering in general. The answer is for RVS to be supremely well organised to use these volunteers well - I wish then luck!

PS: The volunteering sign up page is here 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Viral Walking

I'm not 70 but the official advice is for me to act like I am. Normally (as regular readers will know) I do a lot of dancing but in the current circumstances, I intend to slightly expand my other form of exercise - walking. This is usually solitary anyway, I'm a bit of a random explorer. and if I'm careful about "social distance", I can keep physically and mentally fit enough to give me the best chance of coming through the crisis without endangering anyone else.

So my first walk a couple of days ago was over the lower slopes of Wickridge Hill near Stroud. The first challenge was the approach of an unruly child on a scooter complete with parent. Fortunately the road was wide enough that I could just cross over. Next, I met two greyhounds leading humans. Everybody moved to their side of the road so that was fine.

On to narrow wooded steep path. The first thing I did was pause, squint up the path and listen to detect anyone else coming the other way. That was OK but there was a handrail on the steeper bits so out with some gloves. These also came in useful down at Beeches Green where I needed to push the button on the pedestrian crossing.

Yesterday, I went to Toadsmoor. I'd occasionally used the busy narrow "main" road with alternating directional traffic lights that leads from the A419 up through Eastcombe but had long noted the area to the west that the map showed to be full of contours, lakes and woods.  The few people I met kept their distance so although I didn't bring back any new experiences or insights, there are pictures ...
Garden wall in Eastcombe
Toadsmoor valley

A curious structure that makes it look like the sheep have acquired a hatstand?

Toadsmoor "pond"

Saturday, 21 March 2020

The view from COVID-19

Down at the Virulent Arms, the viruses are gathered for Saturday evening drinks when in walks COVID-19. There’s a sudden hush, broken only by a sarcastic cough from the Chief Virus.

“What have you been doing lately young virus?”  She asks,

“Quite a lot!” says COVID-19, “I started in China, moved on to Italy, tomorrow, the World! I’m having a great time spreading everywhere!”

“I hear you’ve been killing a lot of humans?”

COVID-19 looked a little embarrassed. “Well, yes, I know that’s not a good idea because I don’t spread from a dead body  but despite that, I’m spreading really fast so it doesn’t matter!

The Chief Virus sighed. “Changing the subject completely, have you seen your Uncle Smallpox lately?”

“No, I heard he’d got stuck in a vault somewhere and isn’t in the wild anymore?”

“And why did the humans do that to him?”

“Well, he killed a lot of them and some bloke called Jenner invented vaccination and they ganged up and … Oh dear!”

“Exactly you silly little chump!” shouted the Chief Virus, “Now put down that drink and go out and mutate into something harmless before those pesky humans get so annoyed they come after all of us with some super-duper generic anti-viral!“

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

First experiences assembling some IKEA furniture

Should you try to assemble IKEA furniture? The answer to that depends on your skills, your psychology and frankly, how much time you have got. Although some of their products such as the Kallax shelving are fairly straightforward and quick, assembling a Pax wardrobe or a Hemnes bed is much more challenging.

Tiny details matter!

You need to be something of a detective with a focus on details. Here's an example from the Hasvik sliding doors. The instructions (that contain no words) show you a picture like this:
Looks simple, you need screw in a screw number 110438 but none of the screws or their packaging are so labelled but you do have some medium sized screws like these two:
With both screws side by side, it's obvious that the one on the right has a ledge around the circumference of the head which makes it more like the drawing than the one on the left. Of course, initially, you might only find the screws like on the left and start using them as they look close enough.

Here's another example from the Hemnes bed. This diagram tells you to screw in some threaded bar into exactly the right holes in the headboard.

However, an equally important detail is the small holes I've circled in red. They don't go all the way through the wood but it's perfectly possible to complete this step with the holes facing downwards. Nine steps further on, you would discover your error and have to disassemble and reassemble correctly. The IKEA instructions don't explicitly warn you - they expect you to notice such details.

There are no missing parts!

If you can't find a part or the only part you can find doesn't look exactly like the diagram, it's probably because you need to look harder for the right part - it may be packed inside another part, or in another package entirely. You might start wondering if IKEA forgot to include the part? Almost certainly not - I've thought it myself lots of times but eventually, I've found the required parts after a very thorough search - never throw the packaging away until you have triple-checked for a packet of small parts hidden in a crevice somewhere. Another cause of not having enough of a particular part can be that you've misidentified something - so if you need 2 allen screws but you only have one, start looking for a pair of subtly different allen screws.

The only real error I found in my IKEA delivery was that while I ordered and paid for one "Valet Hook", they sent me a sealed box of twenty. There were also some extra small parts. This may be because different configurations would have needed more parts. Another possibility is that it's easier for IKEA include a few extra cheap and easily lost or damaged items.

Time saving tips

If you've read this far, you'll be thinking that assembling IKEA stuff can be a long job - and you'd be right, here's a tip. If you've got multiple identical items, (EG: I had 4 drawers in my Pax wardrobe) assemble one of them, check it carefully and then immediately do the other identical items. You should be much, much faster because once you know what you are doing, assembly is fairly simple.

Consider investing in an electric screwdriver - there are lots of screws to screw up. 

Finally, the IKEA website has links to the assembly instructions on each product page.  Check these out before you buy - sometimes it's really easy like for this mattress
Other times, you will discover (as I should have) that your wardrobe involves hammering in 96 small nails.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Setting up Google Home: A few traps and tricks

I've just spent 4 hours setting up a "smart speaker", a JBL Link 10 on Google Home. Here's what I learnt - and what you should watch out for:

 The WiFi Selection Screen

There's a point where you see a screen a bit like this:

When I selected my WiFi, I expected it to indicate my selection - ether with a dot or tick to the left or by highlighting the whole line. It didn't - which also surprised the Google support person I was chatting to. Maybe it's something about the colour set up on my phone? Anyway, here's the work around - don't worry about the lack of visual feedback, tap the correct item and then "Next". You'll see on the next page that it noted which entry you tapped and is now using it.

Your WiFi Setup

Not all WiFi is equal - which you probably knew already - but some of them are less equal than others. I set up my broadband router to offer a "guest" WiFi for visitors and was using that. This resulted in Google Home announcing that my smart speaker "was set up successfully but can't be found" which is pretty silly - how can you set up a device you can't find? So I fixed this by using the standard WiFi account (which seems to have more privileges) shown in red below and keep the "Guest Wi-Fi" strictly for guests.

(Your router screen may vary)

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Towersey Festival - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on many years experience mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers. Be aware that in 2020, the festival is moving (again) to the Claydon Estate in Buckinghamshire so this guide might not be as reliable as some of my other guides.

Summary: A medium sized broad spectrum mainly folk festival with a excellent dance programme.

Getting there

It's a rural "stately home" site that appears to be approached down narrow lanes some distance from major roads. If driving, I would allow plenty of time to do the last 5 miles. Users of public transport should check their options very carefully. The site is compact, you don't need to drive around.

Food & Drink

There's a good choice of "festival food" stalls on site. These are occasionally "expensive" and never cheap. There would appear to be no off-site places to eat or buy food and drink without travelling several miles. There were several on-site bars in 2019 charging not quite £5/pint

The Event/Programme

There's a very strong English Ceilidh programme with several top bands playing every day several times from Friday through to Monday. There's often a Contra, BalFolk or other dance event. There's a fair sprinkling of dance workshops.The single dance marquee is big enough and has a good floor.

There's also a large concert programme and a full programme of children's events during the day.


Like most places in England, the predominant language is English.

Meeting Friends

  • In the evening, don't arrange to meet a friend on the main dance-floor. It;s too big, crowded and dark for this to work reliably. Similar difficulties could occur with the main bar.
  • Arranging to meet at a specific corner of the dance marquee will probably work
  • It may be best to meet friends at a named catering outlet - once you've discovered which ones are there this year


  • There is extensive camping space
  • It's often divided into different areas for those who want to have their cars nearby and those happy to have their cars in a separate car park
  • Camper vans may have their own area
  • I would expect availability of hotels, etc to be very low.

Other Points

  • I found the hot showers to be reliable - the days of the grotty football cub showers are long gone.
  • The toilets are good
  • There's talk that fewer tickets will be available for 2020

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Le Son Continu - Chateau D'Ars - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on 4 days at the 2019 event mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers.

Summary: Although this is primarily a musical instrument makers event, there's a lot of dancing opportunities.

Getting there

According to Google Maps, it's a 277 miles/4 hours 45 minutes drive from the ferry port at Caen. That's not as bad as you might think. French roads are straighter, less crowded and better maintained than UK roads. Driving in France is quite pleasant. Also, on the autoroutes, you are allowed to drive at 130km/hour (about 81mph) most of the way. If you avoid tolls, it takes another hour and the roads are similarly good, straight and uncongested

Food & Drink

Just outside the gate, there's a greengrocer who also sells cold cans and a nice sort of potato/cheese slice. Inside the festival, there are good number of food stalls selling salads, burgers, pizza, etc. The small town of Le Chatre is a couple of miles away has cafes and a Lidl

There are several bars on site

The Event/Programme

The main large organised dances start at midnight and and feature well known Balfolk bands such as Bargainatt, Gregory Jolivet, etc. A wider mix of musicians play in the chateau courtyard  for dances during the day and evening too. There's at least one dance workshop each day.

The real delight of this festival is the less formal dancing: There are 4 small dance floors set up around the site. There's nearly always musicians playing and people dancing on these during the day, evening and into the night. I went to bed as late as 0430 and people were still dancing. You will also find a lot of musicians sessions around the site and quite a few people dance at those too.
The stage in the woods

Although the core dancing is Balfolk, quite a lot of people experiment with other styles - not as a explicit event, they just throw in eclectic moves when they feel like it. Some of the bands play more unusual music too.

While there's plenty of people who can and will accept offers to dance the usual Balfolk stuff, there are a proportion who say "Je ne sais pas danser" ("I don't know how to dance") because they're at the event for the music/instruments/conferences/sales.

There's also a some concerts and meetings about instrument making as well as over 100 trade stands selling Hurdy Gurdies, Bagpipes and other instruments.


I walked through the car park one day counting number plates. Around 95% of the cars are from France and when you take into account some Swiss and Belgians, the first language really is French.

Meeting Friends

  • Don't arrange to meet a friend on the main dance-floor, La Pommeraie. after midnight. It;s too big, crowded and dark for this to work reliably
  • As there are several dance-floors, bars, hurdy-gurdy shops, etc. they are not particulalry good meeting points/landmarks. You might do better with the box office or instrument store as there's only one of those.
  • Mobile coverage is seems OK but if you have any problems, use old-fashioned SMS/text rather than phone, Facebook or Messenger as it tends to work better if the network is struggling.

Other Points

  • This is a fairly laid-back festival. People will play loud instruments on the camp site during the day and evening. Take earplugs if you need to sleep during these times. 
  • I found the hot showers to be reliable 
  • Don't be put off by the "dry toilets". They're much better than you might expect. They occasionally smell