Thursday, 27 September 2012

What you doing?

“What you doing?” ask the Saints. “I’ll be working in the statistics office” is the short answer. What that means is not obvious. It certainly wasn’t clear to me before I got here. One week in and things are getting clearer but the details still need filling in.  I’ve copied the official press release below. It should satisfy anyone with a general interest. Ex-ONS colleagues will have a better idea of the ominous depths below those words.

Defending the requirement for a statistician for a population of a little over 4000 is a separate issue. Suffice to say it is important, really important. Not because it’s me doing the job but because official statistics are something we take for granted in the UK. They are produced... by someone, somewhere. We see the figures in the media. Perhaps we don’t recognise just how important they are to planning, appropriately allocating resources and monitoring the economic and social welfare of the country. Many (most?) people  don’t realise the effort and dedication that goes in to making sure that the figures which are produced really are the best they can be. There are (and always will be) some issues and limitations. These are complicated figures produced by people. However, there is a strict code of practise by which all UK official statistics are produced which limit potential issues, ensures new research is incorporated into statistical methodology, and ensures that the figures you see in the press are produced in such a way that you can see exactly how and why they came to be. This isn’t the case everywhere. When asked at interview what I would bring to the office I said I’d bring the Code of Practise for UK official statistics and cake.

Bob is handling the cake (all ingredients sourced and obtained!) and I’m doing the other bits... The SHG press release is copied below. Link to source is here:

24 September 2012
HE and Dr Paula McLeod
Arriving on 12 September 2012 was Statistician, Dr. Paula McLeod who will be working within the St Helena Government Statistics Office on a two year contract.
Dr. McLeod took the official Oath for Statistics Officer in the presence of His Excellency Governor Capes at his Office, in Jamestown, on Thursday 20 September 2012.
As the Statistician Paula will be working with the statistics team to ensure that they keep building on their current skills base and that the office is equipped to meet the requirement for accurate, timely and relevant statistics.
Paula will also be working closely with other Government Directorates to ensure that the Statistics Office is appropriately addressing their requirements for reliable evidence with which to inform the decision making process.
Paula is also hoping to engage with the Private Sector to improve their trust and understanding in the figures produced.
Paula commented:
“My initial activities will include reviewing the National Statistical Development Strategy to ensure we are meeting the targets set out but also to ensure that the strategy itself remains relevant to the needs of SHG, the private sector, potential investors and the general public.
“It is evident that there is a need to review some of our data collection practices. We need to be taking advantage of the opportunity to embrace new working practices and technology where appropriate to improve efficiency and ensure that we are collecting the information we need without imposing an undue burden on those responsible for data collection.”
Prior to coming to St Helena Paula worked in the Methodology Directorate at the Office for National Statistics in the UK.
Paula is here with her partner Bob and daughter Philippa. Bob will be a stay at home parent and Philippa has started in the reception class at Harford Primary School.
Paula added:
“We are all really happy to be here. Everyone we have met has been so friendly and welcoming which is making settling in much easier. The Island itself is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring… but the roads are taking some getting used to!
“My daughter is thriving on everything St Helenian and my partner is rising to the challenge of getting washing to dry in Longwood.
“I am looking forward to the tasks ahead. A vital part of it will be good communication and working closely with key users. I am in the process of meeting people but if anyone feels I should be talking/listening to them and have not yet met them then please make yourself known!”

21 September 2012

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Getting here...

We’re here. Saint Helena, South Atlantic. Home for the next two years.

We are here!
First impressions are overwhelmingly good. The people are friendly, welcoming, open and generally all the things you could hope for when moving to a new place. The place itself is stunningly beautiful. Very rocky round the edges, but that rock glistens in a way I can’t describe right now. The island is volcanic, each lobe of the island has different appearance. This week we’ve been to the desert, tropical forests, the moon, welsh countryside, the Mediterranean... and we haven’t seen most of the island yet!

I did intend to keep a running travelogue but haven’t. There was no internet access, we’ve been busy, the dog ate my homework...

Anyway, the journey went really well. From the lovely taxi driver who picked us up and dropped at Heathrow Terminal 5. Right through to the much appreciated welcoming committee waiting on the wharf in Jamestown.

If you (or any little people you know!) have an interest in airports then make a trip to Heathrow, T5. Outside gives you a fantastic view of the runway, the planes and all the activity that goes on around them. Inside is just as good. We got a prime seat in the restaurant (Giraffe!) right next to a window overlooking it all.
Guarding the bags!
Outside T5 watching planes land.

Having tea and more plane watching!

I was very excited to see the international Passenger Survey (IPS) in residence. We weren’t sampled but I did go and speak to them... which baffled Bob a bit, hopefully ONS colleagues understand the excitement, even if no-one else does. I said hello, told them how exciting it was to see them and explained how much we rely on the data they collect. I think I’ve passed one of the tests for being a classified stats geek.

Pip coped really well with the plane. Slept like a whirling dervish all night... so at least she was rested even if Bob and I were a little bruised in the morning. She also managed to watch a couple of films. She didn’t really get to grips with the idea that she had headphones and not everyone could hear- kept shouting at the screen. I found it cute and funny even if it was a little awkward at the time!

Cape Town was good too. A whirlwind tour on the big red bus, a dip in a very cold pool (it’s winter there you know), a walk along the waterfront and fish (calamari) and chips looking at the harbour. Saw a seal too.

Embarking on the RMS St Helena was a little nerve wracking. Had a feeling of no going back... not sure why it hadn’t kicked in before. Perhaps until this point we knew it would just take finances to sort out a change of mind, once the ship pulled away the isolation becomes far much more of an issue. There was also fear that Pip wouldn’t travel well. I was wrong- she was fine! It was a pretty calm crossing but I’m not sure Pip really took notice of movement of the ship. 
On the bridge.

Dining room.

Pip with Kiera, best ship friends!

All at sea.

The crew and passengers on board were lovely. Struggled a little with some of the “Saga adventures” gang... but good practise in dealing diplomatically with loud and frequently voiced and ill-informed opinions. There was an overwhelming majority of really interesting, pleseant people. Some returning Saints, some other TC (technical collaboration) post holders moving for a year or two, quite a few working for Basil Reed the airport contractor and an scattering of others going for work or pleasure for a couple of weeks (both the UK and SH meaning of “couple” applies here!).

As you might expect Bob and I spent five days chasing Pip around the ship. We had lots of fun though. Some fun activities to join in with- hat making, horse racing deck sports. The food was really good too. My only regret is not trying the beef tea- think it’s of the Bovril type rather than some of the horrors I read about.

Horse racing night!
Ship's pool. Small, salty and a bit cold.

Tug of war. Was glad of the front man!
Our little filly did very good counting!

Arriving in Jamestown is a lot easier than I feared. Life jacket on, down the walkway, onto the little boat, couple of minutes to the wharf, friendly face with big arms to carry Pip and a helping hand for Bob and I, up a few steps, onto the minibus and then milling around the customs shed as we wait for bags.

We were met by the team I’ll be working with and my line manager. Again, the wall of smiling faces made everything so much easier. All becomes a bit of a blur after that- I may not get seasick but I suffer when I get back on land. Took a few days for my head to stop swimming. But they wrapped us up in a whirl of logistics, formalities, familiarities and necessities- shop, bank, office, tea, cake and sandwiches!

The drive from town to house has taken some getting used to- single lane, steep and tight bends doesn’t convey just how narrow, steep the roads are, nor the fear of blind corners... Suffice to say I didn’t need much encouragement when asked to “blow off” on the corners (it means to toot the horn...).
Will stop here. Will say more about the island and the work ahead in separate entries. Last things to say for now is that we are really happy here and are settling in well. Hard to believe it’s only been a week, feel like we’ve been here forever! I promise future blogs will be less of a bombardment of holiday snaps!

Pip, house, car (with new plates!) and garage-
this is a very handy place for hanging up washing .

Hedge flower