Archive for the ‘ journalism ’ Category

Getting my shit together

It’s been  ages since I blogged. In fact, funnily enough, my absence coincided with starting a new job. Mmm – odd that.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day any more. I used to have time to decide not to clean the bathroom and go and do something more exciting instead; now that choice has gone.

I used to have time to stop and chat – now I always seem to be rushing off somewhere. I used to have time to go for long walks and to take photos and to just do stuff because the sun was shining. I used to be able to take on work projects I liked and ignore stuff I didn’t. Now I have annoying “commitments” all week round. S’not fair. It’s like being a growed up.

The great news is, though, I think this is short lived pain; of that I am sure. Starting a new job inevitably involves upheaval and working too many hours; now I’ve got things a bit more sussed this should ease off a bit. Hopefully a bit of routine will return to my life and I’ll find time for the lovely stuff again soon. If not, well, I’ll just quit.

In the meantime I’m blessed with an amazing family who make sure I don’t let it all get too much. Here are three of them – Richy, Felix and Oscar. They make me smile all the time; they love me and I bloody adore them. They are gorgeous, even with a distorting wide angle lens…

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Pretty Dresses and Sunshine Days

Now that was a proper sunny day wasn’t it? Doesn’t a bit of sunshine lift the mood? Wow – just lovely. Time to dust off the bbq and dig out the sunhats and cream. (That’s jinxed it – it will probably be raining by the time you read this.)

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for. Like the Spring days we are experiencing now.

Last time I blogged I was a bit despairing and thought I had made a terrible mistake turning down a job back at the newspaper where I first started out as a journalist.

Now I’m about to start a different and, I believe, much better job. It was definitely worth the wait.

From May 3rd I take over as editor of Shropshire Life magazine, a niche county publication aimed particularly at posh, well off and aspirational people in my beautiful home county.

I am so looking forward to getting started, though I fear the good folk of Shropshire might be a bit alarmed by my populist approach and lack of airs and graces. Ah well, what’s the worst that can happen? (*erm, spiralling decline in readership, withdrawal of advertising, the sack?*)

Anyway, as part of my pre-start preparations, I visited Albrighton Hall in Shropshire on Thursday evening to attend a forum of readers of Shropshire Life. I must confess I was dreading it. I’m not exactly a chav, but I do sometimes find posh people a bit intimidating. I was expecting lots of blue rinses and monocles, double barrelled names and name-dropping.

Instead I got to spend a funny, insightful evening with a bunch of people who, for the most part, I’d happily have as friends. They were all bright and interesting, not at all snobby, and included a teacher, a struggling farmer, a shop owner,  a small business manager, and a youth centre boss. I came away with a spring in my step and a hatful of new ideas.

In the meantime I’m trying to make the very most of my last few weeks of relative “freedom”. The job should only entail about 5 hours work a day, but that will limit how much additional freelance work I can take on, at least for a while; but more alarmingly it also curtails the “me time” that I had got used to enjoying while the kids were both at school this past few months.

When I say “me time” I do of course include in that things like the ironing, cleaning the loo, washing the floors, hoovering, dusting, shopping, gardening, running errands and cooking.

But it also includes lovely time meeting with friends over coffee or a beer, going out for long walks in the countryside, visiting my folks, wandering aimlessly around shops sans kids, enjoying bizarre and usually short-term craft projects, writing, taking photos and generally having a nice old time.

Sadly the first part of my “me time” will have to continue – the chores and so on will not do themselves – but I fear the latter part will get squeezed out.

So I’m planning one hell of a busy and pleasant few weeks until S-Day. One of the lovely things I did last week was spend a day with my friend Becky, who I met when we both took a beginner photography course at Kidderminster College. She’d asked me to go along with her to help take some publicity pictures for a family friend, Charis, who has set up her own designer dressmaking business.

We turned up on a beautiful day – a bit overcast but warm. We found a nice spot at the edge of the large pond Charis’s home overlooks. Modelling the clothes were Charis’s younger sister and a friend. They were incredible and very patient as we amateurishly took the best photos we could.

Thankfully she is delighted with the finished results. They will find their way onto her website and into publicity material to launch her new venture.

I too was pleased with the results. The models were brilliant, especially considering they had never done any modelling before; the setting and light were good; and the dresses were just beautiful.

As someone who struggles to take up a hem, I can appreciate the intricate skills she shows. If you have a wedding looming, or want a one-off dress for a party or special event, you should give her a call. Her website is at http://www.charismaticcloth.co.uk The photos will be uploaded in the next few weeks (you can see my full set on my facebook page if you know me).

Each dress can take weeks to make from concept to finish. As I said at the beginning of this blog, the best things in life really are worth waiting for.

Black and white and red all over

 

 

 

Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/blister_sisters

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue

Tweeting from the council chamber

Tonight was a first for me; I followed a council debate live from Dudley while snuggling in my bedroom listening to Elbow’s new album.

No, I wasn’t peering in to the council chamber with a telescope, in the style of James Stewart in Rear Window. I was following the debate through the medium of Twitter.

All I can say is that in the space of 12 Tweets I learned all I needed to ever know about the public sector cuts debate engaging the good folk of Dudley. It saved me attending myself (as if) but still made me feel intimately involved. I particularly liked the bit when the public gallery started chanting and the police had to be called to clear the chamber. All very exciting.

As it happens, I don’t even live in the district of Dudley but I do subscribe to the tweets of the Express & Star, a daily regional newspaper where I once plied my trade as a young reporter.

Someone there has clearly twigged the value of social networks in the battle to engage the hearts and minds of local people. It will be slow, and time-intensive – but I reckon this kind of initiative is the future.

We are used to reading reports from council meetings and courts and inquests and other venues where journalists are traditionally welcome to attend. In our new world of rolling 24/7 news, we can sometimes get those reports within minutes of the case or incident ending.

But being able to get an instant, regularly updated feed live as things unfold? That is powerful. That is really mind-blowing. Through Twitter, pictures can be uploaded, captions posted, precise and clear words written – and it is as if we are right there, while it’s happening.

It’s taken me a long time to “get” Twitter. I still don’t really get it, only because I mostly follow minor celebrities and comedians rather than people I know. I don’t want to network professionally, or engage with other PR people particularly; I’m not trying to market myself or my services or tout any wares. I’ve used it to find some good photography blogs and information sites, I follow a few fantastic record company and record shop sites that tip off about upcoming tours and that kind of thing, and I once asked someone for a print quote who I spotted on Twitter just as I was about to email someone else.

But for those people who do want to do networking, or to engage with like minded people on particular topics, then I get why Twitter matters. I get why more and more people are doing it.

For me the future of Twitter comes in sharing information in a way that is direct, unadulterated and interactive. Any Express & Star followers tonight would have been able to find out what was happening in a council chamber miles away, and then make an instant response if they were so inclined.

This type of information-sharing will soon be the norm. There are already several class and school tweeters, who post daily from the classroom about what the kids are up to. Court reporters are beginning to tweet from live cases.

I like that I could choose to “tune in” to these tweets, in much the same way we currently tune in to news shows or TV and radio programmes.

Thanks for twittering on tonight, whoever was behind those E&S Dudley tweets. Good job.

PS: That Elbow album – excellent by the way.

Oh, and if you are minded to follow my tweets (they are rare) then I’m @rockhousePR See you twitterers!

Over before it really got started – my adventure in daily blogging

This is just not working for me. I’ve tried to embrace it and enjoy it, and I’m glad I gave it a go, but this daily blogging lark is just not making me smile. I’m only 10 days in and I’ve already had enough.

I started keeping a blog for five reasons:

  • The first was because I like writing, in all and any format, and blogging was something I wanted to try. It looked like fun.
  • The second was purely career-driven. I’ve been out of journalism for a few years (except occasional freelance work) so I felt it was important to demonstrate to any future employer or client that I was aware of and up to speed with “modern” methods of communication. In the same spirit I’ve also learned to tweet, v-blog, make Flip movies and speak teen. (eg “Yo blood, props, that cravat is sick.”)
  • Thirdly, I wanted to become better at writing. I’ve earned a pretty good living writing, and later editing, “hard news”. My job was to write or create fact-driven, short and snappy news articles that squeeze into as few words as possible the essence of a story, usually created after interviewing various people and attending scenes of incidents. This is an art form that is harder than it looks, but it is far removed from writing lengthy features, and different again to writing comment pieces about myself, my feelings and my opinions. Neither of these skills comes naturally or easily to me, and as I like a challenge I thought keeping a blog would be a good way to learn as I go along.
  • Fourthly, I thought it would be a nice way to share my life virtually with other people.
  • Finally, I decided to blog as a way of keeping a diary of my life and times, partly for myself in my dotage, and partly for my kids. I thought it would be cool for them to one day be able to access information about me and my thoughts, to see what makes me tick.

I am not abandoning blogging, because the reasons I like it and the reasons I started a blog are the same today as they were a year ago.

But the daily discipline of sitting down to write a blog, sometimes when I’m at my weariest, just doesn’t work for me. Even when I was a daily journalist I had a couple of days off a week!

I’m also a changeable beast. Some days, I like nothing more than sitting at a computer or laptop, typing away. The words flow and it makes me feel good and complete to write.

Other days, it is a chore. A monumental bore. And it’s impossible for me to hide this in my writing. My words are stilted, my phrasing is dull and cliched, my subject matter tedious. I would choose to delete anything I wrote in this state of mind, but by pledging to post a blog every day I’ve felt compelled to produce something, no matter how rubbish I’ve felt it was.

So for this reason I’m giving up the Postaday 2011 challenge. I’ve also decided, for now at least, to take the Twitter app off my phone – another activity that has been fun but has now become too much a part of my daily routine for my liking. I might even stop facebooking for a while (heaven forbid).

So to those of you who know me – expect me to phone and text you more in future. To those who don’t – I’ll be back. Just probably not tomorrow night.


The Summer of 1996, Swansea, Wales

My flu-enforced house confinement this week has given me lots of time to contemplate the past, present and future (and sort through some old boxes of junk).

Tonight, one of my discoveries was a mix tape I made in May 1996 or thereabouts – a time when I was living and working in sunny Swansea.

I moved to Swansea in early 1995. I’d applied for and been offered (on the basis of a chat over a pint in a pub) the job of district news editor with the South Wales Evening Post. It was to be my first news desk role so, even though I didn’t know a soul and the job would take me miles from friends, family and my boyfriend at the time, Richard, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived on a cold and blustery Sunday, the wind blowing across the Mumbles seafront as I took a solo stroll along the beach. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

I’d left the comfort of my simple life as a journalist at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, living with my boyfriend and having Sunday lunch at my mum and dads, to move to this distant corner of Wales, to live in a sad bedsit over a craft shop.

As soon as I met my new workmates the next day I knew it was going to work out just fine. They were friendly, kind and funny people who very generously allowed this English interloper to fit into their gang, who made me feel instantly at home.

I worked long hours and partied pretty hard, but also enjoyed long walks in the parks and on the beach with my new pals. I made some particularly special friends – Kathy & Rich, Cathy, Peter & Jayne, Janine and Kaye and many more – who shared this lovely time with me.

Within weeks I had been introduced to Wendy, a Scottish probation officer, who invited me to lodge in the Sketty home she shared with her black Labrador Mac and boyfriend Robin.

Though there were only a few years between us, Wendy quickly took on the role of substitute mum. I was naughty teenage daughter; I hardly ever washed up, rarely cooked, played loud music, drove a rusting, unreliable red Ford Escort and often came in late and drunk. I think it was a role she was used to – her partner, now husband, Robin, a fellow journalist, was like my naughty older brother, always in trouble. Mac the dog was definitely the least troublesome member of her household! Wendy could always be relied upon for a shoulder to cry on, someone to have a laugh with – and she always, always, had a pot of tea brewing.

It was a lovely period of my life. The only downside was the amount of time I spent apart from Richard, who by this time had moved up to Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands, to take up his own dream job – reporting for a weekly paper by day, climbing mountains every evening and weekend.

We only got together for one weekend in six, because of the immense distances involved. We had each taken on our new jobs with the other’s blessing – I wanted to push on in my career, and Richard wanted to seize the opportunity to live in the Highlands, however briefly. We were both prepared to risk being apart, in the belief our relationship would survive, and thankfully it worked. We enjoyed our independence, but ultimately we realised we wanted to be together more than anything.

While I missed Richard I truly fell in love with Swansea. It is an amazing, warm city and I would happily move back there tomorrow, if the circumstances were right.

Working at the Post was interesting and challenging. The editor who appointed me, Hugh Berlyn, was a difficult blighter – one day funny and brilliant, another day moody. It was a newsroom blessed with plenty of characters. I had the odd difference with people, and I’m sure I made the lives of some of the district reporters hell, but mostly we had a good giggle. It was easily the best place I have ever worked.

During this era my interest in music was reignited (probably because of all the time I had to myself tootling about in my Escort or in my room.) I went to lots of gigs and befriended a couple of the staff at Newport’s Diverse Records, which I called in to every time I popped along the M4 to visit my folks in Shrewsbury.

We quickly came to an arrangement – they would post me a batch of 45s every month, and I would keep what I liked and return the rest. They introduced me to lots of amazing bands – Super Furry Animals, Snuff, The Grifters, Lambchop – and lots of rubbish ones too, but the arrival of that package always gave me a great buzz.

So here I am tonight, sat in the kitchen, listening to that mix tape, remembering my old Swansea buddies. In front of me is the commemorative front page my old pals made me on my departure. It makes me smile every time I look at it, recalling as it does some dodgy nights out, my love of clumpy shoes, my inability to answer phones, my crush on MP Peter Hain (don’t ask), and my penchant for flavoured alcopops.

I left Swansea in November 1996 to move with Richard to Nottingham. I’d got a new job as deputy news editor at the Nottingham Evening Post, while Richard became a TV press officer for Carlton TV.

I made it back to Swansea a few times after moving away, but I’ve not been down for several years. I keep pledging to visit. But it won’t be the same, will it? Going back never is. There’s a bit of me that just doesn’t want to risk it. I want to remember Swansea, the Post and the people there just the way it was, summer 1996. Good times. Very good times indeed.

That Mix Tape in Full (labelled March-May 1996):

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

Whipping Boy: When We Were Young

Bluetones: Cut Some Rug

Menswear: Being Brave

Auteurs: Light Aircraft on Fire

Bis: Kandy Pop

Gorky’s: If Fingers Were Xylophones

Wannadies: You & Me Song

Rocket From the Crypt: Young Livers

Laxton’s Superb: Coming Round

Gene: For the Dead

Snuff: Nick Northern

Ben Folds Five: Sports & Wine

Urusei Yatsura: Kewpies like Watermelons

Peter Perrett: Woke Up Sticky

Lambchop: The man who loved beer

Sparklehorse: Hammering the cramps

60ft Dolls: Talk To Me

Nilon bombers: Superstar

Shed Seven: Bully Boy

Eggman: Not Bad Enough

Ian McNabb: Don’t put your spell on me

The Grifters: Parting Shot

Sleeper: Sale of the Century

The Silence of the Cows. (or Worst. Job. Ever)

I recently won a competition. There was no prize, beyond the satisfaction that I was the hands-down winner.

I don’t win much, so I was pretty chuffed. Never mind that the contest was to find who, out of eight women, could officially claim to have had the worst job. Ever.

Back in 1985 I was in the middle of my first year studying A-levels at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology. For personal reasons I won’t go into, I decided to abandon my studies and get a “proper job”. In those days Thatcher’s Government had recently launched the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). Critics claimed it was a cheap form of child exploitation, with little in the way of meaningful training.

I need say nothing about that other than to say that during my six months as a YTS trainee I learned how to type. And I saw more of life (and death) than I cared for. Enough of the real world to know I just wasn’t ready for it (certainly not in exchange for £25 a week).

My first placement was in a hospital. Why this was I’m still not sure (In my YTS interview I’d definitely told them I wanted to be a journalist. Or a novelist. Or a UN peacekeeper. But definitely not a nurse.) Anyway, I rolled up to Shrewsbury’s Copthorne Hospital to take up my post as a Ward Clerk.

My job was to take care of the admin for two surgical wards, making sure notes were filed correctly, admission and discharge sheets filled in, reports compiled and phone calls answered. It soon became apparent that the job also involved lots of additional tasks – making tea, chatting to patients, fetching and emptying bedpans. Before I knew it I was even taking temperatures and pulses and filling in medical forms. All this as a completely untrained school leaver.

Anyway, I loved most of the patients and they seemed to like me. I got to see people at their most vulnerable and anxious, and hopefully my little smiling face and teenage banter brought them some comfort. I got careers advice galore from the patients, mostly of the “go back to college” sort.

Thankfully most of the patients made it home. A few did not. I found this very difficult to deal with, particularly as not once did I receive any advice or support. Death was dealt with practically and efficiently and was not dwelt on. I found each death shocking. I realised one sweet old lady had died when I went to fill her water jug at the start of a shift. She’d been telling me the day before how much she was looking forward to going home to her grandchildren.

It was a part of the job I hated. But it did not make this my worst. job. ever. That came at my next placement.

I’d obviously done a good job as a clerk, so I was sent off to ABP, the local abattoir, to help administer the transport depot.

I should say at this point that I had become a vegetarian months earlier, after reading a famous series of articles in The Times supplements about factory farming of chickens.

The transport depot was attached to the main factory, which in turn was situated on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, amid rolling green pastures. Every day hundreds of cows and sheep were brought in by lorry to graze briefly in the fields before being herded to their deaths.

I tried to stay oblivious to the carnage going on mere yards away, instead focusing on my task, which was to ensure delivery drivers could feasibly make it to and between various Tesco depots all over the country within very strict timescales. I got to know the UK motorway system intimately.

On my first day I was taken to the dining hall for lunch. En route I was shown around the packing area, where burly lads and lasses boxed up joints and steaks, ready for shipment. Inside the canteen, men in blood spattered overalls tucked into roast lamb and beef stew. It was enough to make my tummy do somersaults.

Worst of all was the sound of the cows in the fields. As soon as a herd started to trundle towards the slaughterhouse, bellowing would break out. It is hard to describe, but to simultaneously hear dozens of cows begin a low moo-ing left me in no doubt that they knew what was coming.

I didn’t last long at ABP. The last straw came when my boss kindly offered me a guided tour of the factory, with the bonus that I could select my own lamb in the field, then follow him/her through slaughter, gutting, butchering and packing – and then I could even take him/her home. I think mum was a bit cross I turned down the offer.

I saw the light and decided soon after to return to my A-levels, and then on to university.

Since then I’ve done lots of things as a journalist that were emotionally difficult; I’ve witnessed death firsthand, I’ve visited the scenes of innumerable tragedies and had to interview people in the midst of terrible tragedy. But those cows moo-ing. Still brings me out in a cold sweat to think about it.

Worst. job. ever. Anyone beat that?

PS: Due to the fact that I’ve spent all day quarantined in my bedroom, I have no today picture to share with you. I could have shared my sick bowl, or box of pills and remedies, or my unmade bed in the style of Tracey Emin, but I just didn’t have the energy. Hope to resume normal service soon. Bloody flu. Euurggh.