Saturday, 28 March 2015

Germanwings crash

There has been a whole lot of discussion about the tragic crash this week, and the health of the co-pilot who (apparently) deliberately crashed the plane. There are some headlines suggesting that "people with mental health problems shouldn't work" - because we are clearly dangerous.

Aside from the ridiculous nature of these claims, I would love to never work again (of course, I would need to get paid as I currently do). The truth is that people with mental health issues can, often, work in jobs exactly as anyone else. Let me be clear - you who are reading this work with someone who has mental health issues, and you don't know about it. I can say this with reasonable confidence because it affects at least 1 in 4 people, and many of these work exactly as anyone else.

Of course, sometimes people with mental health issues have restrictions - just like people with physical health issues. If you have a broken leg, you might not be able to walk about quite as much as otherwise. If you have anxiety issues, you might not be able to cope with certain situations. It might be that people with particular health issues might not be suitable for particular jobs, something that is applicable across mental and physical health matters.

Andreas Lubitz (the co-pilot) had been cleared by Lufthansa to fly. I know that the airlines take the health of their pilots seriously, and if Andreas would not have been allowed to fly if he was unfit, either physically or mentally. I know many people with mental health issues who are perfectly safe to work in any area. The problem with Andreas was not his mental health issues - if his action was deliberate, it was because he did not have enough help and support, because he could not talk about his problems enough, he could not say "I need help".

Do you want to learn something from this tragedy? Maybe it should be that mental health is something that effects all of us. Maybe it should be that mental health is something we should talk about more. Maybe it should be that someone you know, someone you work with or socialise with, someone you meet somewhere and talk with needs help, needs to be able to talk to someone about what they are coping with (or not coping with).

To those who read this who suffer with mental health issues, talk to someone if you need to. I do help run the "Waving not Drowning" board on the Ship of Fools, which helps many people who have mental health problems. You are not alone - there are others who can listen and help. Call the Samaritans if you need to. Find those people who will not judge, who will be there for you.

To those who don't, find those around you who do, and be there for them. Nobody asks you to "understand" or offer formal counselling or medical advice. What we need most of all is people who can listen, who can hear when we are at our lowest and not get scared off. And no, it is not easy, but then living with it isn't either. We understand - we don't want you to be perfect.

It's time to talk about mental health issues. The answer to avoiding another Germanwings incident is not to label all people with mental health problems "dangerous" or "unfit to work". The answer is to accept that people have problems, and be prepared to discuss them.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Rat Running

OK, I have started a new job in Rickmansworth, and so I am having to drive there each day. This means, of course, I have been working to find the easiest and quickest route to get there. And, of course, that means that I am taking routes through more residential areas, finding the really good rat runs.

And, of course, I do feel a little bad about it. I don't race through them, but I do take these shortcuts, and I understand that those who live in these areas must get sick of it. But it is not entirely my fault - it has shown me more clearly some of the problems of this particular area of the South East.

You see, I can get to work on the motorway, and out of peak times, that is a good route - I can make it into work in some 25 minutes. But at peak times, it can easily take me 30-40 minutes to get onto the motorway, and there is a good chance that there will be delays on the motorway as well. This is the core problem - we have a significant 4-lane motorway, that is not doing the job, because it gets too full. The answer is not to expand the motorway more, because the bigger it is, the more traffic is attracts.

The next option is to take some smaller main roads, taking a route around these main roads (something which is a challenge, as there are motorway spur roads, and feeder roads, all of which suffer many of the same problems as the motorway). I did this for a while, but the problem is that places like Watford get congested, which blocks up the surrounding roads. There were also roadworks, which cause significant extra hold-ups. The problem is that the main towns and cities have queues into them, and this means that these are other spots to avoid, because they are also too busy and also delayed.

So I have had to take back roads and rat runs to avoid the problems and the traffic around the area. I don't do it just to annoy people, I do it because I cannot spend 90 minutes each way to get to work. Especially when it is only 15 miles. So I use whatever roads I can to get me around these problems.

But the core issue is not my driving route. The core issue is that we have too much traffic, to many people driving to places, which has two justifications: firstly, we are actually very poor at allowing people to work from home, or hubs near their home. So many people travel because they are told they have to be in an office. Secondly, the public transport system is not up to scratch, because of neglect for decades.

On the first one, I did look for roles from home. there are a few, but not many, not enough. Within IT, which should be at the forefront of technological development, this is not good. I suspect other areas of business see that IT feels it is not practical, and so don't even try. We should be leading the world in this, because we have a small country, we have national broadband, and we have some of the best technical people in the world.

On the second, I would love to go by train, but the train system doesn't work to get me from home to there. There is a station in Rickmansworth, but I cannot get to it from home, except by going a long way into London first, with all of the cost that involves. It would also take a long time. For my daily commute, it is not practical, and the same appies to many others who are not travelling into London.

I was reading recently a description of motorways, the sort of thing you get in most driving books, that they are "fast roads, enabling you to get places quickly". this may be the case in some parts of the country, but around the South East (Milton Keynes and South, Oxford and East) this is not so - in particular in peak hours. They are usually slow, very busy, and to be avoided if at all possible. they are the only sensible route for some journeys, but where they are not, I want to avoid them. As such, they are failing to improve the traffic around and through the area.

So my conclusion is that our road system is broken - and the solution is not more roads, it is more radical. Our motorway system is not helping any more - it just attracts traffic, and when there is a problem on them (a weekly occurrence), it simply causes more problems around the other roads.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The midget, the old man and the lad.

This week, Jeremy Clarkson had been in trouble once again for hitting a member of staff (after, it would appear, verbally abusing him). He has, as I am writing, been suspended, and the rest of the Top Gear season has been suspended.

If, in any job I have had, I had racially abused a colleague and then hit them, I would have been sacked immediately. In fact, if I had done either of these, not both, I would probably have been taking some time at home. Doing this when I was on a final written warning would have meant that this home time would not be unexpected.

Sacking Clarkson would have an impact on the BBC revenue - although much of this money is from the Top Gear programme, which is more than the one presenter (however significant he is in it). Losing him would result in all significant financial cost from paying him off (possibly twice, because he also has an investment in the worldwide sales of the programme), and from the loss of revenue from sales.

The question is, should this financial loss impact on the decisions the BBC will make? I am all for them considering the financial implications of decisions they make, because they are a publicly funded organisation. But at the end of the day, this is a question of morality, of whether the stars should be allowed more leeway because of the money they generate.

The problem is that I am reminded of the Jimmy Saville era, when he (and a number of others) was allowed to get away with abuse and unacceptable behaviour for many years because he was a "star", and he brought a lot of money into the BBC. But that was wrong - his star status should not have excused his behaviour.

While I am NOT suggesting that Clarkson is guilty of sexual abuse of any sort, he is guilty of abusing people, of being racist, sexist and violent. In my view, irrespective of his "star" status, this should not be tolerated, and he should be sacked.

Of course, he doesn't really care. He is a multimillionaire, much of which has come from his role on Top Gear. He could find some work somewhere if he wanted to, or simply retire and enjoy life. Sacking him would not cause him any real problems, so it is not a threat. Some part of me thinks he might be behaving like this deliberately to get a decent payout so he can then retire with an extra few million in his pocket, and claim to be persecuted.

I used to watch Top Gear, and enjoy it. I haven't for a decade or so, because it has gone from seeing some aspirational cars, understanding where the market is going, providing an insight into the motoring industry to a lads show a sort of Men Behaving Badly. I am not convinced that the other two presenters are actually much better - they have, to a large extent, taken their lead from Clarkson, and this is shown in the other shows they present.

I am a bit of a petrol-head (and I know that this is not entirely consistent with my Green party membership). I enjoy driving good cars. But I do find their arrogant, careless attitude and approach to be broken and mistaken. That is not me, and that is not the only attitude that fits - I want good cars that drive well, and, ideally, are environmentally acceptable. That does not mean that I enjoy watching a group of old men driving strange beat up vehicles across other countries. That doesn't mean that I have to accept their views. That does not make me a lout.

I think it is time to get rid of the louts. It is time to get rid of the celebrities who think they can dictate their own terms. It is time that we stopped celebrating thugishness. Because celebrating being a thug gives real thugs - people who then consider it to acceptable to be offensive and violent - a role model.