Monday, 6 September 2021

Football management vignettes #3

It's now been a month and half since I wrote anything here. Some of this is just the inevitable impact of a school holiday, and being busy, or away, or playing Minecraft with LittleBear. But some of it is because football has eaten my life. I thought that football had already eaten my life before now, when I was simply running a team, but I see now that I was painfully naive.

In July, I asked the Chairman of the club for some help. He helped, but just before helping, he asked me for a favour. Obviously I agreed. Devious bastard. Unfortunately the "favour" was stepping up to assist as a Welfare Officer for the club. This was something I was asked to do when another volunteer stood down two years ago, but I didn't feel I had time to commit to it*. There was no escaping this time.

For the past two years, the Chairman has been doubling up as the Welfare Officer as well. What I had not fully appreciated, is (a) the degree of mind-numbing attention to detail required to maintain the database of volunteers at the club and (b) the absence of mind-numbing attention to detail possessed by the Chairman. He cares passionately about the club, and about it being run well, and for the benefit of the children. This doesn't necessarily equate to a mind-numbing attention to detail however.

And thus it arises that I have inherited a system that is, to be kind, not entirely in top-notch condition. I also have not really inherited it. Instead I was asked to only be partially responsible for the system. Because partial responsibility for a complex system is definitely a strategy with no drawbacks. So, for most of August I took a relatively laid-back approach to my responsibilities: I reminded people that their qualifications were expiring; I sent out links to training courses; I gently explored the periphery of another arcane section of the FA's website.

But then reality started biting. I tried asking the Committee why we had so many people listed on our own spreadsheets who were not registered with the FA. Or who all the people registered with the FA, but not on the spreadsheets were. Or why we had so many people registered as applicants to volunteer, whose applications had seemingly been stuck in limbo for months, or possibly years. I was told not to worry about it. I was told that was too many questions. I was told The Spreadsheet Is King**.

I poked around a bit more. I asked the County FA safeguarding officer some questions. To start with she answered them. Then she started getting tetchy. Then she became quite vexed. Because the more I tugged at the threads of the anomalies I found, the more the entire jumper unravelled. 

I will not bore you with the excruciating details of the issues I found as I delved deeper, but suffice to say that for the past two weeks I have spent a minimum of 2 hours a night working on ensuring the right people, with the right qualifications are registered with the right teams. The season is about to start, and if a team's registration is not squeaky clean, that team (and potentially the entire club) will be suspended by the FA. In the first three days of September alone, I sent and received over two hundred and seventy emails. I spent, at a conservative estimate, 18 hours over those three days fighting with four spreadsheets, two wings of the FA website, the online Disclosures and Barring Service website and two email accounts***. I have had to book annual leave to cover the time I've spent beating my head against this particular brick wall.

In the end, I bypassed the rest of the Committee and just tackled the FA and all our volunteers head on. I decided not to sit back and ask polite questions, but to just get it done. To mis-appropriate the intended use of a key phrase from my Welfare Officer training: 

If not you... who? If not now... when?

There was a job that needed doing, so I did it. I still have qualms that I have trampled on rather too many toes en route. The fact that neither the Chairman nor the other Welfare Officer has replied to any of my emails in the past few days of frenetic activity is now making me feel distinctly anxious. But I am 99.9% sure I have both done things right and done the right thing. At the cost of a huge amount of my own time, energy and emotion. But the right thing nonetheless. I just have to hope other people see it that way...

* This was a grave error. Had I taken over two years ago, I would have inherited a nice tidy system, and this blog post would have read, "I have become a Welfare Officer. The End." 

** The Spreadsheet is Not King. The FA database is King, and Queen, and Courtiers, and Joker. If the FA database says you're not qualified to work with children, then that is the final answer.

*** A story for another day. A very, very tedious story.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Football management vignettes #2

Now that I have introduced you to the concept of the FA website, I can delve deeper into the arcana of attempting to administer a team via one of the tentacular arms of the website. This is an arm that, unsurprisingly, bears almost no apparent similarity to any other arm of the FA, and is called the Whole Game System. Because nobody would want a Half Game System, or even a Two-Halves Game System.

I'm fairly certain that you have to have performed a ritual sacrifice under a full moon while chanting ancient Sanskrit incantations to be allowed to actual register players with the Whole Game System. Which is perhaps why it is that the Club Official who is allowed to do so for our club is, well, venerable. 

It also appears to be exactly the same system that is used for every level of English football. For instance, my own entry lists, in order of importance, my name, date of birth, and number of international caps.

Among the vagaries of the Whole Game System is the fact that once a player's name has been entered, it is cast in stone for all time. It is not possible for any changes to be made by our venerable Club Official. Instead, he must submit a request to the County Official, who may then have to escalate the issue to FA HQ at St Georges Park. Because I can't imagine them having anything better to do at the moment. And it's clearly unheard of for anyone to ever change their name. It's almost as the though the FA aren't aware of the concept of marriage, or the tradition many women still follow.

The immutable nature of names makes it all the more frustrating that venerable Club Official is not the most accurate typist. LittleBear, for example, has spent three years with a letter missing from his surname. Various other boys in my team have their names entered with no capital letters, or entirely in capitals, or in one notable case, changing from lower case to upper case half way through the forename, just after the letter "a". Anyone who's ever slipped onto the Caps Lock key knows what we're talking about here.

It took two days this week to have a letter added to LittleBear's name, but I have finally managed it.

And then I hit a more significant hurdle. One of my boys has changed his surname. He no longer wants to have his (estranged) father's name, he wants to use his mother's name. Utterly fair and reasonable, and relatively painless in other areas of his life. But with the FA?

The emails went something like this:

Me to Club Officer: My player has changed his name, what do I do?

Club Officer to County FA: Our player has changed his name. Shall we create a new player in the system?

County FA: NO! Never create a new player if it's someone who's played before! Send me the player details.

Club Officer: It's OK, I haven't created a new player, I was just asking. I don't know his details anyway.

Me: Here are his details.

Club Officer: Shall we create a new player now?

County FA: NO! NO! NO! How many times have I told you, never create a new player if it's someone who's played before!

Club Officer: Why are you panicking? I haven't done anything.

County FA: I've changed the name.

Club Officer: I can't find the new name in the system. Shall I create a new player?

At this point, I'm fairly certain I heard County FA's intestines climbing up his throat in an attempt to choke off the blood supply to his own brain. He certainly hasn't shown any signs of life via email. I don't really blame him.

I looked on the Whole Game System for my player. We now have two copies of him, both with the same, new, correct name. 

Friday, 16 July 2021

Football management vignettes #1

I have been very quiet here lately. Very, very quiet. And this is partly because I feel as though I have nothing interesting to say* and partly because the only interesting things have been both enormously stressful and involving other people who don't deserve to be written about, even on a pseudonymous blog. 

 Oh, and I'm busy.

 Busy? Even while a pandemic continues to rage?

Oh yes. Busy.

Because it is the end of the football season, and the start of preparing for the next football season. A season that only starts on 11th September, but one for which we must start organising now.

So I am going to attempt to get back into the swing of writing by giving you some vignettes into the life of volunteering at a grassroots club. 

And we'll start with the FA website.

The FA website. When you phrase it like that, it sounds as though there might only be one website. And there is. Sort of. I certainly only have one username and password. But an injudicious click of a link and I find myself somewhere that bears almost no resemblance to where I came from. I have (so far) identified at least five different websites that all pretend to be part of the FA. Each has clearly been written by different people. Each has different designs, colour schemes and menu layouts. Why should this bother me? Well... I have, for reasons that are probably good, volunteered to become a Welfare Officer for LittleBear's club. This has involved additional training. Online courses, webinars and questionnaires. All of which is accessed through MyLearning. Not, it is important to note, through MyAccount. Though MyAccount does have a subsection titled My Learning, this is categorically not the same as MyLearning. Spaces matter don't you know?

Having completed all required modules, and acquired nice green ticks next to each one, my training was marked as 83% complete. There was no means of determining what the remaining 17% was, or where to find it. I tried asking my County Safeguarding Officer. She asked me to send her my completion certificate. I explained I couldn't because of the aforementioned missing 17% and thus absence of certificate. She asked for the completion certificate. I explained (with screenshots) why I couldn't send it to her. She asked me for the completion certificate. There were brick walls that were more rewarding to bang my head against.

I asked the FA, via a bizarrely complex web form, in which in the "other comments" section I resorted to begging for help. "I just want to be a Welfare Officer! Please help me!" Then, magically, for reasons that have never been clear, my course was marked 100% complete and I was the proud owner of a certificate. And then the FA emailed me to say, "we've looked into it, and your course is complete. What's the problem?" Sigh...

So now I was qualified. Right? Wrong. MyLearning showed that I had completed the course. But My Learning, over on MyAccount, did not know this. My Learning did not think I had completed any of the course. Do pay attention to the typography here. Spaces matter. Remember how the County Safeguarding Officer wanted my completion certificate? Remember that? Well, it turns out, she needed me to send her the certificate that the FA website issued to me, so that she could upload a copy of it to the FA website, to be attached to My Learning record on MyAccount, so I could then be registered as a Welfare Officer. Yes, really.

So here I am, as a Welfare Officer, and it has been my great joy** to discover that there are several more sections of the FA website that I now have privileged access to. Guess what? They look nothing like the rest of the site.

* I could, of course, write reams, almost every day, in which I rant about the government, but I'm mostly sure that most of you are as tired of the shit-show as I am, and being permanently angry is exhausting.

 ** It really hasn't.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Isolation and exhaustion

Preamble: I started writing this about three weeks ago. Since that point I have added to it and deleted from it as my mood has ebbed and flowed. I have hit crashing lows where the world seemed unmanageable and I felt broken, and I have had days when I've wondered what I was being so melodramatic about. I have tried to capture both sides of my emotions in my editing.

Even at the best of times, I find interacting with the world hard work. And I think we can all agree that 2020 and 2021 very much come outside the boundaries of "the best of times". 

So, where normally I would find myself second guessing my every social interaction, questioning whether I have been too abrasive, too sweary, too self-absorbed, too needy, too rude, too oblivious, too opinionated, too me, I now find myself doing all that but beyond the veil of face-to-face interaction. I am robbed of even the clues of body-language and tone of voice that used to tell me when I wasn't welcome, or my views weren't needed. My social world has collapsed down to WhatsApp, and three-minute conversations outside the school gates. I now spend more of my free time talking to a football manager who trains on the pitch next to us* once a week than I do to people I once thought might be my friends.

I say "once thought might be", because there are now a surprising number of people, with whom I once thought I shared some kind of friendship who I essentially haven't seen, spoken to, messaged or otherwise interacted with for about a year and a half. And against my existing background of being perpetually anxious about whether I am saying the wrong thing, looking out of place, getting in the way, or in other ways transgressing subtle social rules, the isolation of lockdown has eroded what little confidence I had about my place in society.

The rational part of me knows that as much as these former-maybe-could-have-been-might-still-be friends are not contacting me, I am also not contacting them. As much as I am struggling with holding my life together, and navigating the emotional and psychological barrages of a pandemic, they are too. As much as I may be questioning my place and value and worth to others, they may be too. I doubt very much if I am the only one feeling isolated, anxious and alone. I doubt if I'm the only one whose child still will not sleep through the night and who is whimpering with exhaustion**. 

But inside my own mind, the degree to which other people may or may not be struggling doesn't change the reality of my own anxiety. No amount of rationalisation silences the voice of a school "friend" that said, "If you changed the way you acted, maybe people would like you." Inside my own mind, the loudest voice is the one that says, "See? People only ever tolerated you, they're probably all relieved not to have to spend time with you." 

Which isn't to say I don't have friends, or that they aren't enormously lovely people. I do, and they are. But when I'm reduced to electronic communication, or fleeting, mask-obscured exchanges, I am also reduced to doubting everything that I say and do, even with those lovely friends. I obsessively re-read messages I've sent to ponder whether somehow I have caused offence. I replay those fleeting conversations in my head to question if I managed to remain the right side of socially-acceptable. Was I too flippant? Or did I over-share? Am I wearing people out with my complaining? Have I failed to listen to other people? Am I oblivious to an undertone that is obvious to those who find human contact easy? 

Always, always it boils down to "am I too much?" or "am I not enough?"

The less I sleep, the more I find myself to be either too much, or inadequate, and the more I am sure that others do too.

The less "normal" contact I have with my friends and acquaintances, the more isolated I feel, and the more convinced I become that I will always feel this way.

I have spent so long without much face-to-face social contact that I have now reached the point where I cannot really imagine resuming it. Regular pub nights? Having friends round for a meal? Having play dates for LittleBear's friends? These seem like wildly improbable events now, and almost as daunting to consider as I previously found meeting new people. 

Back in the mists of time, I wrote about how hard I find it to move from casual acquaintance to genuine friendship, and how much I tend to feel as though everyone else is friends with each other and I'm the outsider. Well I'm right back in that state now, convinced despite all evidence to the contrary, that I alone am alone. That I am adrift in a sea of vague acquaintanceship without the dry land of solid friendship anywhere in sight. I have a small life raft of dear and lovely people, but I fear that if I cling on too tight I may either draw them under the waves or be pushed away by them before I sink us all.

In an attempt to dig myself out of my self-fulfilling hole of isolation, I am trying very hard to step outside my isolated bubble and reach out to other people. And it's not as bad as I feared. I am met not with rejection and horror, but with warmth and enthusiasm. It turns out other people aren't desperate to avoid me. It turns out other people may just be waiting to be invited too.

I went out for a drink with two people I've never socialised with before. 

I'm having lunch with two members of my life raft. 

I've suggested meeting two people for a drink who I've barely spoken to since before covid.

I am not alone.

We are not alone.

* To put this extensive friendship into perspective, we exchange pleasantries and ask whether our respective teams won or lost the previous weekend. Yet this is still a greater level of conversation than I manage with most people.

** I'm too tired to fix my participles. We're both whimpering with exhaustion - read it however suits you.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

April Reading List

 Somewhat late for the deadline this month, but really, who's counting? 

The Dark is Rising series - Susan Cooper

Technically five books, Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King and Silver on the Tree. More books that I haven't read for a long time, although despite being children's books I don't think I read them as a child. I think perhaps my mid-twenties? And, as with so many of the other books I'm re-visiting I remembered almost nothing from them. One character had stuck in my mind, but only one. And one location. Nice to be absorbed in a good fantasy with just enough peril but not too much.

Espedair Street - Iain Banks

Mostly I'd remembered enjoying the non-sci-fi Iain Banks books and yet found this one surprisingly joyless. I didn't really like any of the characters, I wasn't particularly interested in what became of them, and it all left me feeling rather flat. I had been planning to re-read some more Iain Banks, but now I'm not sure. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to purge the shelves of something I don't really enjoy? Or perhaps it depends upon my mood and I should give another one a go some other time.

An Aside...

Why, you might ask, would I think my mood is having such an impact on my reading? Well, since the schools re-opened and LittleBear finished with home-learning and went back to the classroom, his sleep patterns have gone out of the window. He struggles to get to sleep. He struggles to stay asleep. The only source of comfort and reassurance is Mummy-cuddles. And heart-warming though it is that my presence is enough to lull my poppet to sleep, I do not function well on broken sleep. 

Most nights LittleBear now spends in a bed with me, because I simply stopped being able to operate as a vaguely normal human being when spending an hour or more every night trying to reassure him enough to go back to sleep in his own bed. And now, sleeping with Mummy is a habit that he is either unwilling or unable to break. Meanwhile I feel broken. It currently feels as though parenthood is a choice between my child's well-being and my own, with no path that allows for both. Naturally this isn't actually true, as it's only my own psyche that is telling me that the world judges me for my nine-year-old son needing me with him to sleep. But my own psyche is a harsh mistress, and spends a lot of her time telling me I'm a failure, a bad mother, incompetent and a whole host of other negative things. The kind of things I would never dream of thinking, let alone saying, about a friend, but with which I allow my psyche to berate me.

So, with my own mental health seemingly spiralling deeper into the mire of self-flagellation, I am finding that it is only by reading lightweight fluff, or looking at pictures of cats on the internet that I am able to find a semblance of inner calm. I don't need angst, or betrayal, rage or recriminations. I need comfort. Which leads me on to the next wave of books that I am compulsively consuming...

Artemis Fowl; Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident; Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code - Eoin Colfer

I treated myself to the entire set of Artemis Fowl books, having read the first 4 when they were published. They're fun, silly, entertaining, and just what my battered psyche needs. The peril is not too perilous, there are fart jokes and fairies. What more could I ask for?

Monday, 10 May 2021

Political rage

Every time I think I have run out of ways to be angry about politics... the contemptible shit-weasels who govern us find new ways to rile me. I would say they find new ways to surprise me, but the one thing their corrupt manoeuverings don't do any more, is surprise me.

We've just had, as some of you will have noticed, a raft of local elections of various descriptions. Despite my feeling that asking us to vote for Police and Crime Commissioners is utterly stupid, given how much any of us know about how to run a police force, I was heartened that we had a half-way-to-grown-up voting system for them and for our mayors. We were allowed to use a supplementary vote system, which avoids the need to try and make tactical decisions about how to vote. Second preference voting in the mayoral election in my area meant that instead of the Tory candidate getting in with 40% of the vote, the 60% who'd voted for a left-of-centre candidate were rewarded with a left-of-centre mayor. Not exactly Proportional Representation, but a massive step forward from First Past The Post, which punishes parties who are at the same end of the political spectrum by splitting their vote (see previously Tories and the Brexit Party but currently affecting left-of-centre votes for Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green).

Can you guess what the Tory Party's reaction to Labour winning 11 out of 13 mayoral contests is? That's right, they intend to revert mayoral elections to being First Past The Post, an antiquated, unrepresentative system that we should, if we were a mature, intelligent democracy, be moving away from. I am sickened by the naked thirst for power exhibited here - "we didn't win, so we're going to rig the electoral system in our favour". And with a massive Parliamentary majority, they'll do just that. All the howls of outrage from advocates for democracy will be meaningless. All the letters to MPs begging for integrity will be irrelevant. All the eloquent speeches from the Opposition benches will change nothing. FPTP won the Tories 56% of the seat on 44% of the vote, allowing them to now do exactly what they want, including rewarding themselves with more power by degrading our local election system.

And as if rigging the local election system weren't enough, the next step is to try to limit the number of people who can vote. After all, you don't want the wrong sort voting, do you? The kind of people who don't have passports or driving licenses. The kind of people who might vote for improvements to the welfare state or the national health service. Anything might happen if poor people voted. The idea of the poor being allowed to do anything probably brings Jacob Rees-Mogg out in a cold sweat. So, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that electoral fraud is an issue, the Tories are moving to require photographic ID before you're allowed to vote. Photographic ID that is disproportionately not possessed by the poor and the young.

I cannot imagine having voted for these people and then sitting back thinking, "Yep, this is the kind of thing I want more of. More corruption, more lies, more election-rigging." I used to at least understand those who voted for different economic and social policies, even when they were not my own views. But this? This shower of mediocrity and mendacity? We are governed by self-serving scum, and I no longer understand anyone who votes for them.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Another stupid endeavour

Having Actually Made a Thing, I have continued and I Made Another Thing. It was another skirt, though (I thought! Ha!) less tricky to make. There was no lining for a start, and far less fabric to handle, because it wasn't a crazy puff-ball shape. But then it turned out that I had only managed to insert the zip in the first skirt by some strange fluke, and I managed to get this one wrong three times and have to unpick it, before I realised what I was getting wrong. So that was fun.

Skirt Number Two was also a much lighter-weight fabric, so harder to keep the edges neat, and harder to avoid it stretching while being sewn. And there were more seams sewn on the bias, which didn't want to behave. And it was a full-circle skirt. And the only way to get a really neat hem was to hand-stitch a blind hem. Despite only being knee-length, a circle turns out to have quite a large perimeter. About 15 feet of hand-stitching. 

A very, very long hem

So once I'd recovered from the cramp in my hands, the weather turned cold, and I've only actually managed to wear my nice swishy circle-skirt once. 


But once summer comes, and it's not too windy, I shall be swishing and swirling my way round the village.

Meanwhile, however, I have been unable to resist the lure of more beautiful fabric and am embarking on a pair of trousers. Which would be a splendid idea, if it weren't for the fact that the only pattern that I could find that even came close to making what I wanted was a download, and not a physical printed pattern. So step one was to print out thirty A4 sheets of paper and attempt to sellotape them all together into one giant sheet. It turns out it's quite tricky to stick that many pieces together perfectly lined up. Two days later and I had an approximation to a pattern. Not a useable pattern you understand, since it couldn't be cut out and pinned to fabric, being made of thirty pieces of erratically-sellotaped printer paper. So then I had to trace the pieces onto pattern paper, and cut those out. 

You might think that I would now be ready to cut the fabric for my trousers. But, no! I have opted to make a muslin version first, to get the fit right before committing to cutting the actual fabric. Which sounds like a really splendid idea, until it turns out that muslin has a mind of its own, and shifts, stretches and wriggles as soon as you consider cutting or sewing it. So, I currently have a half-assembled pair of muslin trousers, and a vague reluctance to carry on, because I fear the step where I discover they don't fit quite right and I have to work out what changes I need to make.

It may be some time before this is a blog post about trouser progress...