Today started off in an ‘interesting’ way, computing wise. As part of the WordPress suite that I use for writing this bog there is an ‘plug-in’ called Jetpack. Apart from collecting statistics about your website and much more besides, this plug-in monitors whether your site is ‘live’ and sends you an email if anything is amiss. I received an email from the Jetpack system telling me that this site was ‘down’ which, indeed it was. After about an hour, I sent off an email pleading for help to my webspace provider – as it happened Jetpack informed me, again by email, that the site had been restored to working order after a downtime of some two hours. What had gone wrong, I really do not know but it is rather nice when ‘errors’ correct themselves. Of course, it could have been a fault at the server end and ‘nothing to do with me’ but that is one problem less to worry about.
Today is the official Census day and later on today, we are going to complete it ‘en famille‘. Census Day is always interesting for Meg and myself because we were recruited as census numerators in 1971 (50 years ago!) What we had to do was to go round the houses on our patch – about 200 houses I think, and distribute the census forms to each household. We then had to call back one week later to pick up the census form and, as far as I remember, we had to do some basic checking on the doorstep to make sure there were no gross errors. When we got the census forms home, we had to do a more detailed checking and then had to transfer some basic information onto special sheets which we had to mark with an HB pencil. These were to be read by OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and it enables the census authorities to get some basic information (numbers, age, sex of individuals and where they lived) very quickly – we are talking about a week or so. Meg and I were probably recruited as we were social science students and had been taught about the census and how it operated in our course. We had a course in statistics which had two components, the first being conventional statistical theory and operations and the second was called ‘Social Statistics’ and it was a fascinating course. We had a certain amount of demography in the course and learnt how government statistics were collected and used – it really was an incredibly useful course (and I don’t even think it was examined either) As part of our census enumerator role, we had a brief training course in which it was stressed that we should leave no building unvisited and indeed, I did pass a ‘deserted’ Anglican Church only to discover it had been converted into a mosque and hence was eventually caught up in the census exercise. If we encountered a ‘difficult’ situation on our patch, we were encouraged to use what persuasive skills we had to extract whatever (basic) information we could, rather than submit a nil return. On my patch, I did encounter a hippy commune who railed against the authority notions they discerned in the census questions such ‘Head of Household‘ and ‘Relationship to head of household‘ After a period of negotiation, I was very pleased with myself that I got the whole commune enumerated with each describing themselves as the ‘co-spouse’ of the other – the members of the commune were delighted to describe themselves this and I was delighted to get the data.
And so we come to today’s on-line form. It took about 10 minutes or so for each of the four of us to complete and I thought that technologically it had been made as fool-proof as possible. I am sure that the amount of information collected has been scaled back somewhat compared with other censuses that I remember – but I suppose the government already holds an extraordinary amount of information on each one of us anyway. After submission, I got an email acknowledgement so I know the form is truly lodged. We were also asked to comment upon any particular features of the form so I did add one comment, at the suggestion of my daughter-in-law. The question on religion assumed that you had ‘some’ religious affiliation or ‘none’ and there was no way in which a humanist could identify themselves as such on the form. In fact, I suspect that they have had this battle with the census authorities for some time. We were speculating what the role of ‘non-completion’ might be and I an wondering whether it will be quite high on this occasion. Ten years ago, the non completion rate was about 6% (higher amongst some of the BAME community) and I would venture to speculate that despite the threat of large fines and the legal compulsion to fill in a census form, the non-completion might be 10% or more on this occasion