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Do I Need a Ten-Day Week?

[published in the Banffshire Journal and the Banffshire Advertiser]

The sharpest divide is between those of us who rise early and those of us who bed late. Woe betide couples who diverge in this regard. We are in the former group with my rising time in the 0530 to 0630 zone. Herself only a wee bit later.

This morning is bright and warm with a step outside into the bright, dewy, warm morning sun very pleasant while the kettle boiled. Doing that disturbed two roe deer grazing at the bottom of the garden. I am always amazed at the ease, and total silence, associated with their run and leap to return to the forest that surrounds us.

A scurry of rabbits, white rear-ends bobbing up and down, another early morning delight associated with living in the country. Although my pal Laurence (vide his previous comments about arriving at Heathrow a few weeks ago) sent me a photo of a deer taken during his early morning run (that's how he described it .. hmm) in Edinburgh. So maybe such experiences are not solely a benefit of rurality.

As ever, the overnight efforts of the internet have delivered a substantial wodge of emails to be attended to. Being a Parliamentarian has never been a five day-week but more than ever we could benefit from an eight-day week.

The French revolutionaries had a go at this with their "Calendrier Républicain Français". It was introduced in 1793 with the establishment of the Republic.

It, perhaps strangely, retained 12 months in the year although December became the tenth month, as it originally had been, by shifting the start of the year to March. But the weeks, three for each month, became ten days rather than seven. They then had "complementary days", unallocated to any month, at the end of the year to make up the approximately 365 days, actually 365.2422 according to NASA, that nature has imposed upon us as a year.

This was the least successful part of the decimalisation that came from the revolution and was abandoned after 12 years.

Of course, adding days to the week did not create any more days. So dealing the flood of constituents' emails will have to continue to be dealt with over a seven-day week.

Since Friday, one aspect of the job has become a wee bit more complicated. Parliament provides me with a mobile phone to help me stay in touch. At home, we have no mobile phone signal from any network operator.

Previously the contract was with Vodafone, and I had bought a nifty wee box that plugged into my personal broadband connection to create a local 3G phone signal for my phone. Worked fairly well.

Now Parliament's contract is with EE, still no phone signal at home, and they helpfully provide a facility on the phone called "Wi-Fi Calling" which links directly to my wifi to make and receive calls and texts.

The phone's connected to the wifi, it's allowing web browsing, the "Wi-Fi Calling" feature is switched on, but since Friday it is refusing to register with the EE network. Because it's a business phone, it won't allow registration with EE App. And all other methods of contacting them ain't allowing me through. The "Chat" box is sitting sulking on my computer's screen, providing no response even after a 55-minute wait.

Losing my phone connection is serious for me, but short of being critical. One simply hopes it's all working out there for our health and social care workers, whose needs are definitely critical.

Planning for a disaster is important because there ain't enough time for everything when it happens.

I worked for a bank for 30 years. Our computer centre, like those of all major banks, were legally part of the UK's "Critical National Infrastructure". When I ran the operations part of our centre, I used to receive a visit from a very senior military person from GCHQ about once a year. He came to give us good advice. And to scare us near witless when he was able to demonstrate a technical vulnerability.

For my part, I was not totally unaware of such risks. When I was our project manager for our CHAPS system, the UK's high-value payments system, I well remember our first payment of over a billion pounds, I had had to sign a document for the US Department of Defense.

That allowed me to import a weapon of war, a public key cryptography box, which we used to secure all our payments. Few commercial organisations outside the US got such equipment in the early 1980s.

But an important recommendation was that we should establish a disaster recovery team. One of my staff, Kenny, was given the job and a couple of people to complete his team.

Early on, he organised a "paper" exercise of our readiness to respond to a disaster. For each function that needed to be undertaken during recovery, there was a designated person. And for that person, a designated deputy. And for that deputy, another who deputised for them.

The scenario was that a severe storm had hit the computer centre on a Saturday morning in February (I think it was February) and flooding had knocked out both our primary computer hall and the backup.

We all sat down in a conference room to check our preparedness for such a disaster. First, a roll-call to establish whether key personnel were actually available on the day and at the time Kenny had chosen for our "disaster".

As luck would have it, he had chosen the day that Scotland was playing France, in Paris. Guess what? One of the chains of command had all three people at the match. The collapse of the exercise and a valuable lesson learned.

We are fortunate that our NHS regularly prepares for disaster, inevitably they cannot predict every type which might hit us, and so has people trained in disaster response ready to go.

Well done to you all. And to the front-line workers who are actually delivering what we need.

I'm shortly away for my walk. My tiny contribution to staying well and fit and, I hope, not becoming one of your problems.


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