A short residency in Birmingham, revisiting EHI Live, and spiritual Saturday

Sunday 2nd – Saturday 8th Nov

Is there anything better than Ben Cohen to cheer you up? No reason, purely gratuitous, it’s there because I like it.

The big event last week was spending three nights in Birmingham, a city I like because it is so industrial and earthy compared to London. I am a great believer in changing a physical setting in order to improve mental health and I really did benefit from having a few days on my own not acting out the usual routine (i.e. going into the office) but there were things I missed like seeing Dave and mum as well as getting to the gym. I was in Birmingham to attend EHI Live on Tuesday and Wednesday. EHI Live is all about digital healthcare which links into the the work I am doing in looking at how good the third sector, and especially charities, are at using digital to deliver services to their beneficiaries – generally not very good, see the recent Nesta report in Websites of the week. This links to what I have been doing with Innovation Labs – getting not-for-profit organisations working with young people and digital developers to create digital tools to enable young people to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Websites of the Week also includes access to the Innovation Labs evaluation containing some very interesting information.

I left a heavily raining London on Monday afternoon to arrive an hour and a half later (quicker than some of my tube journeys!) in a grey but dry Birmingham. After checking into my hotel, I checked out a local secondhand book and video shop I know (buying just three DVDs) then spent the rest of the evening dealing with work e-mails before a relatively early night. I checked in with mum to ensure she was OK as I do every night if I am not with her.  On Tuesday I went off to the NEC with a useful work phonecall before meeting up with one of the abstinence-based recovery community projects I manage the funding of. This was a good chance for a catch up on how they are progressing as I was in their part of the world. We were due to meet at the NEC but a £10 parking charge meant I met them at a nearby on-site hotel which was far flasher than the one I was staying in. The rest of the day was spent at EHI Live and I attended again on Wednesday getting a remembrance wristband on the way though I had to get a kid’s one as I have got such weedy wrists.

Overall attending EHI Live gave me some valuable insights and points to think about. These are some of the key themes I picked up from being there particularly compared to the previous year:

  • There is a heightened awareness and focus on future trends that will affect health services and the potential for digital innovation i.e. increased numbers of older people and people living with long-term health conditions as well as increased financial restrictions leading to a drive for value for money and cost comparison
  • A lot of digital innovation is about helping to make existing processes better rather than the real game change which is what tech can offer; the latter is true ‘digital disruption’
  • There are ongoing issues about inter-operability between digital innovation with existing networks and systems both people and non-people based
  • If you have an idea then just try it, stay low-key if necessary (alpha version); do not wait for the perfect time or uniform standardisation to be in place before you launch – this is never going to happen
  • Just because there is a ‘need’ and ‘demand’ is not enough – user experience, design, and availability are equally important for the success of a digital product (see the negative reaction to the Samaritans Radar app which would appear to theoretically be a great idea)
  • Health services are far more aware now of the potential that social media has in terms of consulting and communicating with patients
  • Apps are still popular though it is clearer they are not the answer to all problems; coupled with an increasing awareness of app issues i.e. standards and regulation, privacy, and what happens when the app is no longer in use?
  • The popularity of hackdays has decreased as they are no longer seen as a panacea to all ills but can still useful if used correctly. Awareness that it is just as important (more so?) to ensure widescale ongoing adoption and financial sustainability.
  • Wearable tech has great possibilities but does not have to be too sophisticated i.e. carrying a mobile phone that gives alerts to take meds
  • The importance of co-creation that brings input from both patients and clinicians
  • Increased interest in the potential big data gives and the issues around it (witness  the NHS’ problems around care.data); interesting that so many digital solutions are based on collecting and sharing data i.e. on social media but this may not always be a good idea
  • The key role of gamification in improving the digital offering and this goes beyond children – games are relevant to all ages such as to reinforce behaviour and obtain feedback (one speaker talked about ‘serious gamification’ to differentiate from the usual shoot and kill games like Code of Duty)

One of the things I like about Birmingham is the great places to eat. On Monday night I went to the buffet Chinese to have a nice browsing meal though I deliberately did not go to an excess. On Tuesday I tried out Five Guys – a new and trendy burger place. A bit like Ed’s but better. However at the end of the day it was just another burger ‘restaurant’ and I really do not think anywhere where you have to order at the counter and collect your own food to eat on a plastic table top can be called a restaurant. Then on Wednesday night I went to one of my favourite Chinese restaurants ‘Cafe Soya’ which I love because of the frenetic atmosphere and the interesting choice of soya products. I had dumplings to start and then fake chicken kung po – fabulous. I am not a vegetarian but I really like soya products like tofu. I popped out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as well to the nice gay area in Hurst Street for a beer – very earthy. The weather was dry and chilly plus on Wednesday night we had fireworks which provided a smoky atmosphere smelling of gunpowder. The journey back on Thursday morning was uneventful but the train was very busy but, thankfully, a lot of people got off at Birmingham International and Coventry.

Both Thursday and Friday were busy. From Euston I travelled to the RSA off the Strand to meet up with Jo and Luis from http://www.healthtalk.org/ I then travelled to Dave’s to drop off my dirty washing before having an afternoon pottering round the West End drinking coffee and reading. This led up to the Velvet Page book club at Waterstone’s in Piccadilly. This LGBT reading group meets 7-8.30 first Thursday of every month. Unfortunately our leader Chris was upstairs with Debbie Harry but we still had a nice chat about Catherine Hall’s ‘Days of Grace’ as well as her other books and generally about good books and authors we like (I am going to read Peter James on someone’s recommendation). Alex gave us the lowdown on the process of actually writing a book. Friday morning I got to the gym before getting into work around lunchtime. A technical cock-up meant a task that should have taken half an hour instead took up most of the afternoon with a colleague needing to finish things off on Monday. After work I met up with Dave and we had a bite to eat at the wonderfully trashy Frankie & Benny’s – we love it. Back to watch double Coronation St on ITV+1 and bed by 10.30.

Spiritual Saturday was a strange day. My left achilles was tender and I had a problem with my right shoulder which was hurting which I had ignored as far as possible for my workout the day before. I woke around 7.30 and could feel both injuries as well as having my ongoing off and on problem of a headache over one eye plus I just felt tired. So I decided to have a day without a jog and without going to the gym. This is really unusual and I felt like a lost soul. I went round with Dave for a coffee before he popped off to my mum’s to collect a paint-spattered set of wooden steps which he wants to put on his balcony and make into a display with plants and flowers on it. I spent most of the day drinking coffee and reading. I also popped to my favourite charity shop at Crusaid where I picked up some cheap books. In the afternoon I had a snooze. It was a day where I was very at peace with myself though a bit lost without exercise. It is also this weekend that the LGBT weekend retreat was happening at St Bueno’s in north Wales. This has always taken place at Loyola Hall near Liverpool and was like a comfort blanket to me. But Loyola Hall has been closed down and St Bueno’s is far away plus difficult for me to get to. The retreat at Loyola was something I always thought would be there and the fact it is gone reinforces that nothing should be taken for granted, nothing lasts forever, and saying ‘goodbye’ is part of human life.

Around books and reading, I got through Catherine Hall’s ‘Days of Grace’. Not the usual book I would read because it is very much a lesbian love story  and all about a woman’s (grim) life. I read it for my reading group. But it was really excellent – great characters alongside a clever interweaving of two stories about the same woman in different phases of her life. Interestingly there were definitely some similarities with gay men’s literature with commonalities like unrequited love, discovering sexuality, and dealing with rejection. It is a dark book in many ways with a grimness that runs through it similar to all classic gay male literature where men either committed suicide or died of Aids; now they just die of cancer or old age but they might have a decent relationship beforehand. I also read last week a classic gay book Tom Clarkson’s ‘The Wounded’. Written in 1953 (about the same time as William Burroughs’ ‘Queer’ featured in a previous blog), it is very much a British kitchen-sink melodrama with various characters including some gay men who express themselves by being female impersonators on stage. It is nice to read about past British experiences of gay life and not let this always be portrayed within an American context noting the presence of key American novelists like Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Gore Vidal, and Armistead Maupin. This book has some fascinating characters and portrays a lost-in-time slice of their lives but it is too short. I can find nothing out about Tom Clarkson and one gets the feeling that he lost heart with the book towards the end; it pretty much is a novella rather than a novel. This book must have been challenging for when it was written and the fact that it is not longer is our loss. The third book I read last week was ‘The Fifth Elephant’ by Sir Terry Pratchett. He is such a brilliant author and I adore the Discworld series which I am working through in correct order book by book (this one is number 24 I think). They are clever, well-written and very witty. I think his writing could be a Mastermind subject it is that masterful and I dread coming to the end of the series one day.

In terms of fitness, I managed two gym sessions and a session with Sara my personal trainer. The first gym session was on Sunday morning with a good weights session followed by 10 mins cardio exercise on the rowing machine. My left achilles remains tender though it does get better with exercise and I did a lot of stretching. It is often at worst when my leg has been at rest such as after sitting down or laying down. I also have a developed a pain in my right shoulder,  which I generally try to work through or avoid doing weights and exercises that aggravate it too much.  On Monday I had a session with my personal trainer Sara. I had decided what I wanted to do (unusually decisive on my part) so we spent a half hour of spin and a half hour doing kettlebells which gave me a good workout without antagonising my achilles or shoulder. I was knacked afterwards so that I spent the rest of the day chilling by rehydrating, reading, and checking out the internet before the train to Birmingham. Back to the gym on Friday with both my left achilles still tender and my shoulder stiff. I did weights and ten minutes cardio on the rowing machine again. But then, as I have said earlier, the injuries meant I had to take a break on Saturday.

Anything else to mention about last week? Nothing on languages, I even seem to have unconsciously stopped doing DuoLingo which must change. With digital I did have a mess around on this website and I put on a form on the front page where people can sign up for e-mail notification that it has been updated. I have also taken forward my cunning plan to get the log-in details for a professional WordPress site to have a look around. Not much else to report apart from a haircut plus me and Dave went to see mum who showed her love in the usual way by trying to fatten us up (she’s a feeder) – bacon sandwiches and cakes. Also I am growing my moustache for Movember which both Dave and mum do not like. Apparently mum says it makes me look gay – no stereotyping there! Sexy Scott went out of Strictly (I think I am team Steve now) and Peter Capaldi’s first Dr Who season ended.

Websites of the week:
Evaluation of Innovation Labs – how to develop digital products http://www.innovationlabs.org.uk/2014/10/15/digital-projects-social-tech-mission-ebook/
Catch up on EHI Live http://www.ehilive.co.uk/
Recent Nesta report on charities and digital http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/going-digital-five-lessons-charities-developing-technology-based-innovations
Interesting site designed and run by Scottish young people with type one diabetes http://www.justduk1t.org.uk/

Wonker of the week: Several wonkers this week and more celebrity focused than the usual range of politicians. Terry Wogan said  Conchita Wurst has turned Eurovision into a ‘freak show’. Griff Rhys-Jones does not want to pay more tax even though he lives in a house worth millions of pounds. And Ann Widdecombe said she will not support the Red Cross as they got rid of a volunteer who publicly and virulently opposed equal marriage. The common theme is that they are all has-beens.

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