Tag Archives: Performance

Plus Ca Change…….

……………. You all know as well as I do that we’ve been discussing, considering and scoping potential changes to our services for many months. It’s a time of inevitable anxiety and uncertainty for so many of you, so while I know we have to prepare thoroughly, consider all possibilities and consult widely, all of that takes time and that time in turn simply exacerbates the anxiety for those of you who are affected.

I admire the way in which so many of you have dealt with this period of uncertainty. The changes ahead may have a personal impact for some of you and so it’s to your credit that so many of you have managed it so professionally. You’ve clearly put those personal concerns to one side, remained focused on the work at hand and the people you work with, and been measured and considered in your questions, comments and responses to the emerging changes.

The most recent CFE and the period between now and the next CFE in June will see the detail of much of that change finally take shape and start to be implemented. I will cover some of the specifics of that elsewhere in this blog post and in subsequent posts, but I wanted to recognise how you’ve dealt with the conflicting personal and professional demands which these changes bring.

Connected in to the difficulties that you all face at the moment and the inevitable anxieties it brings, I know that previously, some of you have fed back about the tone of communications and in particular whether or not is appropriate and fair to include things which might be lighter and perhaps even irreverent. I’m therefore acutely aware that some you have objections to any light-hearted tone to communications because we are in a context where there is uncertainty about the future generally and people’s jobs specifically. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and discussed it with some others but have decided not to change the style of my communications at present. That’s not out of any lack of respect for those views and not from any disregard for how difficult and serious the current context is for so many of you. My judgement is instead based on my belief that mentioning things that don’t directly relate to the serious issues does not detract from those issues, doesn’t minimise how serious they are and reflects the fact that while some of you don’t appreciate a light-hearted tone to communications, others do and have said so. However, in continuing with things as they currently are, the intention isn’t to irritate anyone and therefore, if you are one of those who disapprove of the style in which I communicate then I would apologise in advance. At any rate I hope the lighter hearted bits aren’t overdone and of course allow you to choose to read only those items that are of interest/relevance to you

INTERIM HEAD OF SEN
At the moment we need some short term cover in SEN as Colin Pates is off work. We have recruited Lesley Hobbs to join us and support the service over the next few weeks. Lesley was previously in similar roles in Southampton, Brent and Medway so we are delighted to have secured her services. And we hope that it won’t be too long before we have Colin back.

EDUCATION SPIN OUT
In addition to the report to members last week we’ve also been meeting with potential partners in any joint venture set up which has included individuals, private providers and academy trusts. As we found with schools the responses have been positive and willing to consider it further. We have also been looking in more detail at funding arrangements, and the possible implications of any spin out where we have joint service arrangements in place at present with Merton.

In part to support further detailed planning and in part to ensure we maximise the use of managers time we’ve also made some changes to the management team arrangements in the Improvement and Support Services. Following the committee decisions last week we are now developing a business case that in addition to assessing service level need, demands and capacity, also includes issues such as accommodation, support services, governance arrangements and performance arrangements for any spin out company.

CHILDREN’S CENTRES
Members have made final decisions which will see us continue to make a full range of children’s centre services available in 6 of our 14 centres, with some service provision by us or by health in a further five centres. However we will now be preparing to cease to provide children’s centre services at The Grange, at Highview and at Cheam.
In addition we’ve begun our formal consultation with all the Children’s Centre staff on our proposals for the revised children’s centre offer. The staff in our centres have been living with considerable uncertainty for some time and while the formal consultation is in effect the final part of the change process for them, it’s still a very unsettling and worrying time for all of them.

YOUTH AND ADOLESCENT SERVICES
Member decisions at CFE mean we will now prepare to cease providing universal open access services at Sutton West Youth Centre and at Phoenix Youth Centre, cease to provide youth service input and oversight into the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme and over time cease to provide support for Youth Engagement work such as Youth Parliament and Youth MPs. We are now finalising the implementation plans for these decisions so we are sure we address what it means for the buildings, resources, and most importantly people, whether that’s young people who use the different services or our people who support those services.

STRANGE THINGS ON THE UNDERGROUND PART TWENTY-TWO AND THREE SEVENTHS!
I had a late-ish finish week before last and I had the ‘joy’ of getting the ‘Essex is now very drunk’ train back to Epping. When I reached Epping which is the end of the Central Line there were 4 other blokes in the carriage – all snoring loudly. Three of the four woke up and had missed their stops by a few places – but the fourth bloke had meant to be on the Northern Line! That was a new one on me – I confess I too have found myself ‘very tired’ after a night out but I’ve never been so ‘tired’ I was on the wrong line altogether.

However it’s not just the late train that entertains! I got an early evening train from Oxford Circus last week. A young woman got on, knelt on the floor, took clothes from her capacious handbag and proceeded to get changed for a night out on the train!! She got off 6 stops later at Liverpool Street having transformed a la Superman in a phone box!!!

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CONSULTATIONS INVOLVING SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION

Alongside the work to redesign our services, we are also consulting or about to consult on three potential changes in education. Firstly members have agreed to a proposal that we should consult on a possible merger of the alternative provisions at Limes College and STARS. While the merger would NOT mean the provisions being moved to the same site, it would mean merging the leadership, governance and some back office functions in both those settings.

At pupil level we are consulting on proposals to discontinue some SEN Specialist Base places which we do not think will be needed in the future. So we are proposing to cease the Moderate Learning Difficulties places at either Avenue Primary or Amy Johnson Primary and to reduce the number of ASD places at Glenthorne High from 25 to 15.
Last but by no means least we have agreed with Schools Forum to consult on ceasing DSG Central Funding into the Learning Support Service. William is finalising the consultation documentation this week. The proposals would see the ‘top slice’ method of funding this service end in September 2016 and we would then need to look at alternative options to fund the service, most likely through ‘trading’ with schools.

MAN FLU
It’s that time of the year when only my male colleagues can begin to imagine what I’m suffering at the moment!!!! I thank you in advance gentlemen for what I know will be genuine understanding and empathy with the trials and hardship I’m manfully coping with at the moment.

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PERFORMANCE ON ADMISSIONS
We recently completed the first set of ‘offers’ to parents whose children will be transferring to Secondary School in Sept. The number of families who have been offered their first choice school has increased again in Sutton, so much so that our performance is the third best in the capital. My thanks to everybody involved. The only slight niggle is that one of the two boroughs ahead of us is Waltham Forest where my partner is the Deputy Chief Exec so it didn’t quite win me bragging rights at home(!!) but it’s still a great achievement.

PERFORMANCE ON TWO YEAR OLD CHILDCARE IN SUTTON
After a challenging start the work of staff has really led to a significant improvement in the number of families of two year olds taking up their entitlement to free child care in Sutton. The Council recently received a letter from the government minister for Childcare and Early Education, who describes performance in Sutton as having made a ‘huge increase’ and ‘excellent progress’. My thanks to the Early Years team and Laura Byrnes in particular.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO DILBERT!

One of latest cartoon strips from Dilbert – made me laugh anyway!

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EARLY YEARS FUNDING
We’ve started work with representatives from both the maintained and PVI Early Years sectors looking at the issues in funding early years especially in the light of government commitments to double the free entitlement for eligible three and four year olds. We used the first meet to explore some of the real difficulties the sector faces and we will follow this up with a half day workshop to explore possible solutions.

LIVE MUSIC GIGS ON 3RD FLOOR AT CIVIC!!!
I’ve bought myself some new hi-spec headphones for working at my desk – and they are brill. Alas the downside is that when I’m lost in what I’m doing I sing along – only the headphones are so good I can’t hear myself! Not a problem for me cos I’m happy but Richard Nash shows a distinct lack of appreciation for my talents!

ALTERNATIVE MODELS OF DELIVERY FOR SAFEGUARDING SERVICES

As I have mentioned before, IMPower are currently doing some work with this to explore the possible options and issues with alternative models of delivery for children’s safeguarding services. The second workshop involving the Heads of Service last week looked at the issue of how best to work on transforming safeguarding, because it’s vital to think through how best to change and improve services before we embark on any work to think about what those changes and improvements might be. As you would expect with something like this we have a variety of views and it was helpful to discuss those as part of considering whether or not there might be scope in using an alternative model of delivery now or in the future. IMPower will compile a final report back to the Council which will be for CMT to consider before deciding how best to progress.

AND FINALLY……
…………………….. A couple of weeks ago I saw an ad on the Tube. The guy was dressed in a pink jacket with a white shirt, deep red tie and red pocket square. I thought it looked great and mentioned it to my partner who is the arbiter of all things fashion chez moi! “Yeah!” she said. “Looks really good”.
That’ll do for me thought I!!!!!!!!

So after some secret Internet shopping, I presented myself for going out for dinner on Saturday night, duly attired in pink, white and red. I was met with astonishment ……………………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………………………….then laughter ………………………………………………………………………………………………and then with this……………………………………. “What on earth have you come as? You can’t go out dressed like that! At least, not with me you can’t!!!!”

When I tried to defend myself and rescue my self-esteem by pointing out that I’d seen it on an ad and specifically asked her if it looked good and SHE’D SAID YES,  I was then confronted with the explanation that she was saying that yes it looked good on a fit, smart, handsome young bloke – alas it didn’t work on fat, scruffy, ageing old bloke who was over fifty!!!!!

Knowing it had hurt my feelings (I do a look of ‘crushed’ to what is effectively an Olympic standard!), she relented a bit by telling me that it wasn’t a lost cause…………………………………………………………………………… I could carry it off once I cut my hair, shaved, sorted my eyebrows, got back on my diet and ditched the Guinness, pies, potatoes and bread (I’d like to say it was not necessarily in that order but she was very clear that it had to be in PRECISELY that order!). So now I know that the pink jacket look isn’t entirely beyond me – all I have to do is avoid Guinness!

And having thought about it since, there is only one thing to do………… ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Do any of you know  anybody who might want to buy a second hand pink jacket?!!!!

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Yes but…what are the others here for?

In case you are wondering who the wizened bloke is above and why he’s at the top of this post – it’s actually WH Auden and he’s there because of his rather irreverent comment that “We are all here to help others………………. What on earth the others are here for I don’t know!” Yet tongue in cheek or not, that premise of looking to help others sits at the heart of our work and is pretty much the core purpose of most things we do. To support that we’ve been working for some time on a revised and updated Early Help Strategy and it was agreed by the Children’s Trust Board last week. The new strategy has a revised definition of early help and an updated set of priorities. The Trust Board also agreed a new Early Help Board which will be responsible for the governance and accountability – they’ve asked schools to chair that board to reflect role of other agencies in chairing key delivery boards ( the Clincal Commissioning Group chair the CAMHS Board and we chair the CSE group in conjunction with the Met)

Alongside the new governance arrangements the Trust Board also agreed to a proposal to recruit a specific Early Help Co-ordinator, which will be a new joint-funded post between the Council and the CCG.  Jonathan will lead on the recruitment to the post which will start as soon as possible and once the post is filled it will be part of Jackie’s service for the purposes of line management and day to day operational oversight although of course ultimately it will report back to both the Trust Board and the LSCB. We will post more details on the specific functions of the role and on the recruitment as it progresses.

DIRECTORATE MANAGEMENT TEAM / CMT

Both management teams reviewed the feedback on the recent Children’s Centre and Youth Services consultations. Coming from those meetings we’ve been tasked with drafting up the final reports to members on both issues and within those reports we’ve been specifically asked to address in one case some localised feedback about one particular Children’s Centre and in the other to look at how we might prioritise and aggregate the very wide range of suggestions in the feedback about what the future provision of youth and adolescent services might look like.

In addition, we have decided to have a couple of options worked up for how we best manage the transition from children’s to adult services for children with disabilities and we decided to make a formal proposal to Schools Forum for a central DSG funded service to support schools in managing and risk assessing outdoor activities and school visits. This will be on the agenda for the Forum meeting in early February.

WHAT YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW!

Mixed in with the info from last week that might be of relevance and interest I’ve decided to include some random facts for you to know…. And learn!

Firstly – did you know that your fingernails start grow faster in cold weather?

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EDUCATION SPIN OUT

We did an overview presentation to school governors at the Termly Chairs Briefing taking them through work to date and the reason for the emerging preference to set up some form of Joint Venture company between the Council and schools. Given that this is still subject to member consideration, we did not provide detail at this stage but focused on how we envisaged the new delivery model could work for and with schools.

We also did a further update to managers in the Advisory and Inspection Service. The whole issue of change on this scale and to this extent is of course difficult for all of us to come to terms with but we found that the general response from governors was a willingness to consider the possibles and to do so with a relatively open mind. For staff that’s probably even more difficult but the feedback to me from the most recent update session is that a number of staff are now considering the scope for provision through a spin out with a more positive and open-ended approach and to that end we are now putting together some training for managers across services that might be part of the spin out so that people have more of the sorts of advice and tools that they might need to manage their services to be not only effective (as we do currently) but also financially sustainable into the future.

Linked in part to the spin out, and perhaps more specifically to the implications for schools, I met with the Director of Southwark Diocese last week and we had a helpful discussion about academy conversions, trusts and the provision of School Improvement support and challenge.

NEW PERFORMANCE SYSTEM

The Council has introduced a new electronic system for monitoring and evaluating performance – it’s called ‘Covalent’ (though that matters to you only because I’m likely to refer to it by name in the future!) We reviewed the current set up for key indicators across our services and while the system is very effective and has huge potential we don’t have the set up right yet for us – in effect some of the proposed indicators are eit her not enough of a priority or they don’t quite measure what the system thanks they are measuring! We will make the adaptations to the PI’s in the system and then update you on actual performance as and when relevant

ANOTHER USELESS FACT YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW

When Jimmy Carter was the American President, he once left the launch codes for their nuclear arsenal in the pocket of a suit he sent to the dry cleaners!!!!

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VISION FOR NEW SECONDARY PROVISION

You will know that following the Council decision on land offers to any free school development, the Greenshaw Learning Trust declined the option to develop the free school for which they have agreement from the Education Funding Agency on the site made available at Sutton Hospital. As a result the CFE Committee have agreed that we would begin the detailed work on school vision and potential design for a secondary provision on that site, on the assumption that the Council might progress a new school development up to planning stage and potentially beyond that depending on decisions elsewhere. While there are likely to be further free school applications, and these may well end up being delivered on the hospital site if there is an approved application, we still need to progress it at pace in advance of any decision that the EFA might make. As a result Kieran was working with an education consultant to work up the design brief for a possible new school last week and in due course we will see that formalised and progressed to possible designs. I’ve been through the initial scoping work for the vision statement and design brief and think it already captures the key issues and components we’d want to see delivered in any new school.

AND ONE LAST USELESS THING YOU DONT NEED TO KNOW

Of all the people in the world who live to be over one hundred years of age, four in every five of them are women!!! There’s a moral in there somewhere but I’m not keen to go looking for it!

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SCOPING OPTIONS FOR REDESIGN OF SERVICES

We had a scoping session for staff from Children’s Centres and from Youth and Adolescent Services last week, with an external facilitator from an organisation called Bryanston Square. The feedback from the session that I’ve had was that it was engaging and thought-provoking for most staff who attended. We recognise that while the session might have done much to engage and promote reflection, it did not give the opportunity to move on to developing possible concrete proposals for any redevelopment. We are meeting further with Youth and Adolescent Service staff this week to see if we can move that aspect of our provision on to a more detailed service redesign brief.

HAVING STARTED WITH POETRY AND AUDEN……….

I’m to end with poetry too – this time TS Eliot. The winner of the TS Eliot Poetry Prize was announced last week and a debut collection called ‘Loop of Jade’ by Sarah Howe was the winner. I know poetry isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea but this is really good – I’d thoroughly recommend it. If you want to try before you might buy there’s a sample below

AND FINALLY……..

…………………………………… I’m usually slightly sneering at the interest that my family seem to take in the minutiae of others lives in the TV programmes they watch – Real Housewives from just about everywhere, Big Brother, programmes about people choosing wedding dresses etc etc etc! I take this very high brow and intellectually superior stance that it holds no interest for me – and then a recent Tube journey taught me how wrong I was.

A woman and what turned out to be her adult daughter sat opposite me at Epping. As we travelled into London they moved from standard chatter about how to make a curry paste and the new neighbours to suddenly discuss the woman’s ex-husbands – and I do mean plural! It was loud, matter of fact but utterly mid-boggling to me – I had my book open in front of me but read virtually nothing – instead I was captivated. At the point when I’m pretty sure they were discussing husband number 5 (!!!) I realised that I was at Tottenham Court Road – ordinarily that’s not a problem as it is the station before Oxford Circus where I usually get off – but on this morning I’d meant to get off at Bank!!! – but I’d been so engrossed in her marriages and divorces that I’d missed it and a few more stops thereafter!!!!

I got off at Oxford Circus pretending that it was what I’d meant to do all along and having learned two things – I shouldn’t be so quick to judge my family and their fascinations with the lives of others and secondly…. What a dull life I must lead!

 

It’s Easy To Express But Hard To Tell!…..

…………That line comes from Joni Mitchell and it’s about ‘Sorrow’ which she says is “easy to express but hard to tell!” Which shows two things – one the fact that I’m quoting it must mean I am sorry about something – and I am – and secondly that if I know quotes from Joni Mitchell I must be an old hippy – and again – I am!!!

Bart SorryMy sorry is about the fact that it’s been several weeks since the last update. Since I came back from leave it’s been hectic but nevertheless I’m sorry that I didn’t make the time to keep you all informed. I’m definitely starting the new term with a “Must Do Better on Communications” target for sure.

The Quad

The new Quad facility up in Green Wrythe is now finished and the ISYP staff have moved in. I’ve been up a couple of times and it’s a great space – and seems to me a real improvement on how things were before with different teams in different buildings. In case you don’t know about it, the Quad is a refurbished Youth facility that now houses all of the staff teams in Claudette’s service in the same building. As well as the work space, common areas, meeting rooms and reception areas, the facility boasts a terrific new teaching kitchen. I particularly like the option it gives us for flexible staffing arrangements with staff from all teams in ISYP mixed in together. I think it would be a good model of organisation for our Locality Teams as well.

 Locality Teams

And on the subject of Locality Teams, the first pilot team is now up and running based at the Tweeddale Children’s Centre. Suzanne Cripps from EIPS has become the new Team Manager for the pilot team. Suzanne and her staff will not only be leading the delivery of Early Intervention in that area, but will also be at the forefront of our finalising the design, processes and systems for our full borough-wide roll out of Locality Teams from September 2014. As you would with any pilot, we are using this as an opportunity to learn more about what works well and what doesn’t. And while we are very confident about the pilot set up, we also know that we will have challenges and glitches to overcome – but I guess that’s why we are piloting it in the first place!

Music Tips Part One (cos I know you wait patiently on these!)

I’ve no idea whether or not more than one or two of you ever follow up on my music suggestions and advice. But as I am into it, I’ll keep doing it anyway! This first tip isn’t actually mine – this is currently Tolis’ favourite band (or at least the one that he’s been mentioning to me most!). They are called London Grammar and were being considered as a possible for the Mercury Music Prize – alas they didn’t make the shortlist! But that doesn’t mean they are not good – they are! A bit floaty, dreamy pop in places but see if you like it – the boss does!

Education Performance and Changes

Generally the overall pattern for school attainment in Sutton continued to be really good. I will publish a specific briefing note on key headlines for everybody to the intranet pages and will let you know through the blog when it is available. It’s very likely that the performance will continue to see Sutton ranked as one of the highest performing LA’s for both primary and secondary education.

You will know by now that we were unsuccessful in our preference for a local school to sponsor Camden Juniors. It converted to an academy on 1st September with Harris as the sponsor and is now known as the Harris Junior Academy Carshalton. However we have a positive working relationship with Harris and I am sure that they will build on the excellent work done by the school, with the support of our school improvement staff last year, which saw Camden transformed from a school in an OfSTED category to one of the ten most improved schools in Sutton in only 12 months. So thanks and well done to everyone in our division who contributed to this excellent turn around.

On the same day that Camden became an academy, Carew Manor moved to become Carew Academy and Orchard Hill College are the sponsors for that school. As with the other academies in Sutton, we already have a good working relationship with the new school and the sponsors.

DMT Meetings

We have had several DMT meetings since I last sent a blog update. On 9th Septmber we reviewed our latest Performance dashboard, the Annual Report of the Corporate Parenting Forum and agreed a draft of a CYPLD QA Framework. On September 24th we looked at our budget position across CYPLD at Month 5. The savings for CYPLD have been confirmed between our division and Sharman Lawson’s division. There remain challenges in managing the social care budgets especially the constant need to scrutinise our placements budget and our staffing costs because of differentials between permanent and agency staff. The other key item on that agenda was to agree making DMT nominations for the Council’s “Rising Stars” development and training programme. We submitted 6 nomineess from CYPLD, 4 of whom are based in our division. I have written to those nominated from our division to let them know. The fact that 4 of the 6 nominees came from our division is a further indication that there are a lot of good things happening across our services and that we have many very talented officers in our various teams. There is another DMT meeting todaywhere we will consider the draft CYPLD Health and Safety report, a summary report on our statutory responsibilities forMissing Children and a disussion on the new OfSTED Inpection Framework for “children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers.”

Primary Partnership / Middle Tier

As you know, we are looking at a new model of delivery for some of our school improvement services, including one possibility of proposing to work in partnership with our primary schools. Over the summer the Heads and Governors have worked up an emerging business case and we have had a number of discussions with them on different aspects. The outline proposals were put to a meeting of all school governors representatives a couple of weeks ago. From there the Heads and Governors will refine their proposals and then publish a draft to every primary school for them to consider in principle at their Autumn Term Governing Body meetings. On the Council side of things we are currently preparing to discuss the proposal with CMT, and then, if it progresses as a possibility, with elected members and staff in due course.

Divisional Budget Advice Sessions

We held the first of our budget support sessions for budget managers at the Quad on October 4th. The materials and the programme were put together by Sarah Alderman, Jackie Bulbrook and Nia Lewis and the focus is on providing practical advice and guidance on budget monitoring. The feedback from those who came to the first sessions was good and I think they found it helpful – and that’s the point of it. There are further sessions already scheduled for 1st November and 6th December. We are aware that the first of those clashes with the school half term holiday so we are looking at adding an additional session and we will advise you on that in due course

Youth MP Elections

Ingrid Bard, who is currently leading on Youth Engagement work in the short term has started the process of advertising the forthcoming elections for the new Sutton Youth MP and Deputy Youth MP. Nominations are currently open and will close on October 25th. Voting will be from 11th to the 22nd of November. If there are young people with whom you work, who you think would be interested and effective in these key roles representing the views and perspectives of Sutton’s young people, please encourage them to put themselves forward

Early Years Literacy Family Engagement Programme

We are rolling out this important initiative through our Children’s Centres, working in  partnership with the National Literacy Trust.   The aim is to work with partner agencies in identifying families who would benefit from, but are currently not engaging with, our children’s centres.  ( We are expected to identify 10 families per Children’s Centre). Once identified and referred in, the families will receive peer support in the children’s centre engaging in literacy based activities. 

And this is where you come in! We need volunteers to support this programme – and we need the not insubstantial number of 100!!!!! At the last count we were up to 35 and the Children’s Centres are continuing to work on it. But we need your help – so please consider volunteering yourself and in addiiton if you know of a colleague or friend who lives in Sutton please encourage them to join in too. It will mean about a day for training, probably split over a couple of sessions in December followed by giving 6 hours of your time between January and March next year to provide face to face support for an hour a week to one family. You’ll be asked to support and encourage the family working through some materials from the National Literacy Trust designed to encourage families with the acquisition of early literacy skills.

And just to show that occassionally I do put my own time where my mouth is(!!), I have volunteered myself. So think of it this way – if I can do it anybody can do it! 

If you are interested in being a volunteer – and I really do hope that lots of you will be – please contact Jenny Kelly at the Family Information and Development Service on 020 8409 7454 or by email on jennykelly@sutton.gov.uk

Music Tips Part Two (in case you were waiting patiently on another one of these)

My current favourites aren’t quite as floaty and gentle in sound as London Grammar. Turin Brakes are one of my favourite bands who’ve been around for a while. They are two guys who met at school in South London singing in the school choir! This is from their new album that I am playing almost constantly at home at the moment – if you like this, you’d like the rest of the album – it’s a bit special – honest!

And Finally………..

………………..Some of you know this story but for those who don’t………………!

In early Sept I got on the train to start my journey to work. At one point a bloke got on with a bag that was clearly very heavy. He put it on the floor. I assumed it must be tools. Suddenly and of its own volition, the bag whipped round! Everybody including me just stared first at the bag, then up at him. And then tempting fate someone asked what was in the bag. “My pet snake!” he replied nonchalantly! Around 90 seconds later the train pulled into Stratford – and I led the virtual stampede off that train (there was no chivalry in this – it was raw terror!). As it pulled out I had to pretend that getting off at Stratford to then get on the next train was the most natural thing in the world – but I need not have been embarassed for there were at least another ten or more doing exactly the same as me!!

Enjoy your day and your week!