When I arrived to meet Andrew Crosby from Fish Brothers Toyota in Swindon I was in for a shock.
In my mind, I’d be tootling around town in a small two-door hybrid vehicle, my first ever experience of a car powered by batteries and petrol.
The car was brought around and it was, to me, a large family car, four door with an enormous boot. It was a Toyota Auris Hybrid in white.
Not going into too much technical detail it has a battery at the back, an engine at the front and the two work in tandem to offset each other depending on the driving conditions and speed. It’s an automatic which was a new thing for me – as I’d never driven one before.
The electric batteries power the car only for a short distance, around 1.5miles but it kicks in and out as you progress through slow moving traffic. Until you drive such a vehicle over a number of days, you have no real clue as to how useful (and eco friendly) this is. Believe me, I’ve been educated, the electric power kicked in a lot.
So two challenges in one day, driving a new type of vehicle and getting used to keeping my left foot still. Andrew took me for a test drive, stayed with me while I had a go and then I was on my own.
By the way and I’ll say this upfront, this car also parks itself but I knew at this stage, I just didn’t have the bottle to try to parallel park relying on the car. I need a space big enough to park a jet in at the best of times, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to trust the car to do it for me.
As I drove the car back home to my office, the first thing which hits you is that it’s so quiet. So very quiet that you almost feel as if the car has stalled when you stop and you initially feel out of control, as if you are coasting in neutral. It’s quite a big mental hurdle to overcome. I knew this would take some time to deal with – every person who got in the car with me commented freely on how quiet it was.
You don’t realise how much you rely on listening to your car and its sounds, until those sounds are not there.
My first proper ‘outing’ was the school run which took me a couple of miles from my central Swindon home. Once again, starting the car demonstrated how silent it is – and at this stage it still feels very strange.
The electric power is engaged at very low speed and when in traffic (which is often in Swindon) so far so good. It’s a smooth ride but I had a couple of niggles. The clock favours the passenger so it’s hard to see and I realise I check the time a lot. In my own car the clock is more central and slightly down to my left, I’m so used to looking at it, having to look elsewhere is odd.
Also there is a compartment or elbow rest next to the driver’s seat which is at the wrong level for me. It would be at the right level if you were taller – but I kept banging my elbow on it.
I’ve had this before in other cars – my current car doesn’t have this arm rest and my previous car had one which could be moved backwards.
Solution? Keep the lid open all of the time.
Day Two was a real test for the car as it was a busy day out and about around town then off to Cardiff for an event and overnight stay.
From early morning the car took me to West Swindon, Old Town, Royal Wootton Bassett and Purton. It performed well and is a dream to drive because it’s such a smooth ride. I’ve not noticed any real loss of power – my own car is a 2 litre and this one is a 1.8. However it doesn’t have the acceleration of my own car and I’m still getting used to that slight delay as the automatic moves through the gears ‘on its own’.
The rear view mirror is a bit narrow for my liking – although the car has a reversing camera. As I know quite a bit about cameras, they are great for some reverse moves but the truth is the perspective is distorted and you cannot see the sides. Therefore I’m reluctant to rely soley on the camera.
Written as I sit in the hotel in Cardiff prior to my first meeting of the day. Yesterday I had travelled to the city in the most appalling weather conditions, pretty scary in a car you don’t know well.
It performed well and was smooth though occasionally felt buffeted by the very strong winds. Having said that, any car would have been bounced by the high winds and driving rain.
The car got me safely to two meetings in different parts of the city. As most of the journey was with petrol on the M4, fuel consumption seemed about the same as normal. It appears that around town you use very little fuel, but on a longer journey, the petrol is used up very much at the same rate as my existing car which is a diesel.
One thing is that it can be easy to speed in this car because it’s so quiet. As I was trying to find my way to my first meeting in central Cardiff, I was flashed by a static camera. No excuses here – it’s my fault for going too fast but I just hadn’t realised I was over the speed limit until it was too late. And yes, I was caught on camera doing 35 in a 30mph zone and am now awaiting my fate.
I’m not blaming the car for this but please take this as a warning. If you are considering purchasing a car such as this, give yourself a good few days to get used to it’s ‘sounds’ or lack of them. This is especially if you are driving in an area which is unfamiliar.
Also I did have some problems with the blue tooth audio, it kept cutting out and I’m not sure why. This was while travelling in Wiltshire – I didn’t use the blue tooth on the way to Cardiff, the weather was simply too appalling to talk to anyone on the phone. Radio was fine though.
I must admit I’m not keen on the cover of the steering wheel as it’s very smooth – I personally prefer something with more grip. But that’s a very personal preference.
The boot is great, could easily fit a pushchair and bags. My overnight bag, business banner, laptop and other paperwork was utterly lost in the space.
Next week – part two – my last two days and a fact file on the Toyota Auris Hybrid.
By Fiona Scott, journalist and media consultant
Having worked as a journalist for almost 30 years, it still amazes me how blinkered small businesses can be when it comes to PR or story-telling.
Entrepreneurs, in my experience, tend to fall into three categories:
One – the company owner who thinks they have no stories or nothing to say.
Two – the company owner who thinks their business is the hottest topic in town.
Three – the business owner who just understands and embraces the organic process that is PR and the need to keep telling stories in order to create selling opportunities down the line.
Guess which one is the easiest to work with?
Even in the last month I’ve dealt with, and passed on, three businesses which only want ‘national’ publicity and aren’t interested in the local or regional press.
My answer? In our digital age – what is national? Isn’t anything which hits the internet potentially global?
Also with our access to social media on its various platforms – aren’t we in the best position to make our stories work much harder through sharing, asking for shares and commenting – even if that original story appeared in the local High Street News online?
All businesses have stories to tell but you must consider what is a story and where can it be told?
A ‘fixtures and fittings’ magazine wants to hear about fixtures and fittings – it’s reach is narrow. The Cheltenham newspaper wants a story which says Cheltenham, it’s reach is specific.
National journalists in the UK have much more stringent criteria because they have a big pond in which to fish.
Even when your story meets their criteria – whether on or offline – that story will have to compete with other stories on the table.
Are there any short cuts? Perhaps.
You can employ a PR agency which may, or may not, deliver against your expectations.
You can always advertise – but you need a big budget for this and you have to keep doing it over time. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read a paid-for ad in a national newspaper?
If you are aligned with a celebrity or someone with a very high profile, you could shoot up the priority list. If Bill Gates invests in your business, brace yourself for the interest – in Bill Gates first and you, second.
Even if you meet these criteria, a national journalist will check you out online to measure your profile – they will assess your website, and while you may not rate local publicity, they often will. In many cases, they started in the local media and they rate it, even if you do not.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the news agenda, or how you feel about it – this is the reality and no amount of bluff, bluster or spitting of feathers will change it.
Putting it bluntly, here are five things national journalists don’t care about:
They don’t care that you are busy and don’t have time – they are busy too and if you can’t be bothered, they won’t notice.
They don’t care what product you produce or service you offer unless they are talking about that product or service on that day – anything else is advertising.
They don’t care about the fact they’ve not replied to your emails or the emails of your PR company – they have hundreds each day and they will have forgotten every single one on a busy shift.
They don’t care about your mission statement – they want facts they can work with, not vague wishy-washy dithering.
They often don’t care about the day-to-day of small businesses – even small business editors will look for the biggest, best, smallest, worst, most unusual, first and last.
Faced with this, my top tips are:
National journalists want stories which have a national interest or are extremely unusual or moving. They often want something new, topical with an opinionated and outspoken view or some kind of jeopardy or conflict.
But more than anything else – they want a story which meets their need at that moment, that day, that week. Meet that need.
The first place they will start to find that burning story – is within their own circle of contacts and experience. Enter that circle.
Relationships have to be built and nurtured, just like any other business relationship. It takes time and effort. Make the effort.
And remember the one key thing in business and in PR – it’s all about people, people, people.
Do you want to appear in the national press? Do you want to be interviewed on national radio? Do you want to be featured in a high quality national magazine?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes – please read on.
I attended an event in London last week called Meet The Journalists – organised by Dan Martin of Enterprise Nation. You may well ask ‘why would a journalist want to meet other journalists?’ – in my case it was to make new contacts face to face but also to ensure my thinking about the national media and the advice I share with my clients is actually up-to-date and accurate. It was.
The event was attended by many small business people and PR people and it was sold out. What interested me was the behaviour of some of those who attended. First of all, when invited to ask questions – several people launched into a long pitch about their business. Often very desperately as if they had to speak at 100mph and share their long story in 30 seconds flat. This demonstrated to me they saw this as an opportunity to pitch, not to ask. Rather like the hard sale at a networking event and probably likely to yield the same result.
The next thing which interested me was the way in which a few small business owners wanted to whine and bleat at the journalists about how hard their lives are, how they try to get publicity but are ignored and how they don’t have time to make the effort to engage these journalists. There was a sense from some in the audience the journalists had some kind of ‘duty’ to tell their story. Again, this is a familiar ditty which I hear week in and week out. For me, it’s also a sign of a business which probably won’t last. It’s no good telling a journalist you haven’t got time – they aren’t interested. Listening and acting efficiently on the tips they share is one of the best ways to spend marketing time surely. Or hire someone to do it for you. Simple.
A third thing which really got my attention was the way in which a national journalist will decide if your business is worth more than a cursory glance. I know how the news agenda works – when in television day in an day out, a story was often not deemed newsworthy until it had appeared in a newspaper somewhere first. Personally I could never understand that – a good story is a good story. However it often worked that way.
Now, the journalists clearly have a pattern of research and – surprise, surprise – it’s very similar to anyone’s pattern of research.
In a national arena where they write about the biggest, the best, the richest, the worst, the least – they will not write about the mediocre. If a national journalist is interested at all in you, they will look you or your business up on the internet first. If your website is done by your cousin’s child and cost you 50p you are out straightaway. If there are no news stories already there about you to reinforce your credibility – you are at a huge disadvantage. If national or international profile is your goal – you have to be present in a way that can be found easily and quickly.
Finally, some national journalists positively want to hear from the little guy or the little gal but not every day and not on stories which are not of national interest. If you are hiring your first employee – that’s not going to cut it. If you are hiring that expert from Flog It!, that might get their attention. However, if they are writing about apprenticeships and you have hired your first apprentice – well, that’s a toe in straightaway. So my final piece of advice is this – keep on top of the news agenda every day and, if it fits you or your business, become part of the story by proactively letting them know that you are around – and you are available.
On February 13 this year my friend Ainslie died of breast cancer after fighting the dreaded disease for 12 years. I knew Ainslie was going to die, at the time of her death she had cancer in her brain, was wheelchair bound and her body was less and less able to function. Given that I knew she was going to leave, I was always so sure I’d know when the time came. However I did not.
It was a full 24 hours later – while away with my family on a weekend break – when I got the text from her husband Phil to tell me she’d gone. I went into the state of shock which comes when someone who is part of your life is taken, a parting even worse if that someone is young, in this case just 47. My son told me he’d never heard me cry like that.
Ainslie, who fought breast cancer for 12 years
I asked him what he meant. After all, I’m so soft I’ll cry at a tv advertisement which pulls on the heart strings. He’s seen me cry regularly, hundreds of times. He just said ‘it wasn’t like that’. I think he meant I was howling – making that kind of sound you make when you are almost separate from yourself wondering why on earth you are emitting such a strange, animal noise.
When home, i visited Phil and Alex to see them following Ainslie’s passing. It’s one of those moments you dread but know you have to face and I did it with one of my children who felt she wanted to be there. It was such a shock to walk into the house and see Ainslie looking at me from the sofa – my heart flipped. Perhaps there’d been a mistake – but how could there be? It was actually Ainslie’s sister, Lindsay, who looks like her, or who looks like her before cancer took over Ainslie’s body and tried – but did not succeed – to rob her of her essential self.
What do you do when your friend dies from cancer? When you could do absolutely nothing to help her when she was here apart from being there? You can – donate money to her funeral fund, you can support her family in the days following her death, offer to do some practical things like cook meals, do shopping, clean the house. However, having suffered loss myself before – that’s not where the best and most positive route lies. Do those things. Do them as a matter of course, but don’t let that be it. The best route for me lies in letting everyone know this person mattered weeks, months or years down the line. For everyone achieving that may look different.
I lost my dad when he was 58 and I remember him daily by talking about him and ensuring my children know what he looked like, the funny things he said and did. What he did or didn’t like. How he influenced me for good and ill. When I lost my brother in law at just 49, it was about honouring his children, seeing him in them, trying to support my sister through the worst times of her life – and trying to keep on doing it even when it’s hard to do so. That’s family. But what about a close friend?
When I went to Ainslie’s house to see Phil and their son Alex, following her death. Alex and Phil told me they had a plan. In her journal, Ainslie had said how sad she was that she was unable to see Alex achieve his first century at cricket. Alex is a rising young star on the Wiltshire cricket scene and the sport is his passion – as it is Phil’s who is a sports journalist and qualified cricket coach. Why was Ainslie unable to see her son play on that day? As a wheelchair user, the cricket club where Alex plays regularly has very poor wheelchair access and nowhere for a disabled or very ill person to view a match safely or in any degree of comfort. Although very proud of her son, Ainslie’s wish to see him play could not be fulfilled. Her journal revealed the true extent of her sadness.
Now I know nothing about cricket save it can involve teams dressed in white carrying bats, using very hard red balls and the word ‘runs’ comes into it. It’s not a sport I’ve ever been interested in and my only abiding memory of it is the novelist DH Lawrence refers to the ‘chocking’ of the cricket ball hitting the bat in one of his novels. I’ve always liked the word ‘chock’. When Phil & Alex asked if I would support them in a five year project to rebuild the cricket pavilion at the Purton Cricket Club in Wiltshire so that no other wheelchair user would be denied access – I said yes.
As I said before, I could do nothing to help Ainslie while she was alive battling this horrible, disgusting disease – but this is something I can do. I can do my little bit to support Phil & Alex as they attempt to create a legacy in Ainslie’s name at a cricket club which will be 200 years old in 2020. I’m proud to have been asked and I’m proud to do my bit.
Could you do your bit by sharing this blog post? It will be one of many charting this journey over the next few years and highlighting events to raise money. At this early stage, just over £5,000 has been raised to get the project off the ground. It will be a long journey ahead with obstacles, hurdles and great moments. But it will never be anything like the journey which went before….so this is what I’m doing for my friend Ainslie….
Today I’m thinking about manners – manners at home and manners in business. Manners online and manners offline.
As I was driving around my home town today, yet another motorist pulled from a merging lane in front of me – I gave way, which I didn’t have to do – I then waited for an acknowledgement of that act. But nothing happened. The driver didn’t wave, flash lights or in any way say ‘thanks’ for that.
I realised how quickly we will judge people when they act without manners – and the truth is that man probably didn’t give it a second thought. He probably didn’t even realise or care that I thought he’d been rude. However if I met him again how would I feel about him? Hardly a good first impression.
There are, of course, times in our lives when we don’t really care how people ‘feel’ about us. That’s normal. Frankly, sometimes people deserve it and we have to stand up for ourselves.
However in most business scenarios, the way we make people feel is very important. It’s so easy to annoy, upset or irritate someone when we’ve actually done nothing wrong. People can be affected by other factors which have nothing to do with our behaviour. However at that particular moment, we may annoy or anger someone simply by being there – or even by not being there.
So why would anyone risk making someone feel negative by not doing something as simple as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ on a regular, daily basis? Manners are, for me, a sign of being both professional but empathetic. It means the person I’m engaging with is considering me and engaging with me at a personal level. I respond well to anyone who:
*allows me to go through a door first – be they male or female.
* ensures when they are with me they are not distracted by other things eg. a mobile phone.
* says thank you at appropriate moments.
I feel my heckles rise if someone:
* talks to me as though they are issuing commands – no matter what they are talking about.
* takes a telephone call or starts texting or reading on their phone during a conversation (unless there’s an emergency)
* chooses to respond to any kind of communication by ignoring it.
I’m not just talking about business here. My son has a birthday party soon and has invited a handful of children. Several parents have already let me know they can attend. Some have not. Of those, two parents have told me their child cannot attend but only because I’ve had to chase them. Where are the manners in that? If I had not chased, my child is denied an opportunity of inviting other friends in their stead. Also if they just don’t turn up on the day, I have to pay for them, whether or not they attend. This is, to me, the height of bad manners. I make a point of always letting fellow parents know a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as soon as possible. I’m often staggered at some people’s capacity to completely disregard the needs of others.
Don’t be afraid to share your bad manners (or great manners) stories with me. I’d love to hear them and I might share some if that’s okay.
I’m going go to ignore you because I can….
Good customer service is very important to me – is it important to you? In fact during 2014, I made a point of praising anyone who gave me, or my family, excellent service and being very clear when service was not up to scratch.
One mantra I’ve heard repeated several times is ‘why is this important when you can buy so much online now?’ – to me, there is no difference between excellent customer service on or offline. If it wasn’t important, why would services like Amazon and Ebay ask for reviews? And do you ever read the reviews? I do – and does it influence a buying decision? It certainly does for me.
Excellent Customer Service
In the real world, shopping has to be more and more like an experience – and a good experience at that – why? because it’s so much easier, more convenient and often cheaper to buy online. Therefore, real world shopping must offer something extra. There must be some added value which engages the emotion. These are absolute musts for 2015.
If anyone is in doubt – look at the success in my home town of Swindon of the Designer Outlet Village, where experience is at the heart of shopping. People come from all over the country to shop there – they anticipate a bargain and they also anticipate an experience. This flagship centre for McArthur Glen – the company which runs the site – is a testament to good service. The mailing list for this one outlet centre alone is huge – a list many of us would be thrilled to manage.
So what is bad customer service? For me, it’s any person within any business who makes me FEEL slighted, stupid, silly, of little value – EVEN IF I’M IN THE WRONG. Remember the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – there’s sense in that. No one can argue with how a customer feels, even if that customer is being unreasonable. Here are a few things I personally class as ‘bad’ service:
*Being ignored when I ask a direct question – this once happened to me in an Apple store where the member of staff, started talking to another customer during a conversation with me – I left and made no purchase.
* Being continually hassled by staff when it’s clear I’m browsing and taking in the shop and what it has to offer. Once is enough.
* Being made to feel stupid when you can’t work out the intricacies of the ‘bill’ – this happened to me recently at Dominos Express in Swindon where the manager insisted I was unintelligent – his view changed however when I told him I was a journalist (something I should not have to do to be treated well). I will never enter that shop again. Not because the pizzas aren’t good – but I will be reminded of how I was made to feel.
*Being pushed aside by a telephone call – if I’m being served and the staff member receives a telephone call, I expect to come first – not be dismissed in favour of a telephone. This will guarantee I will leave without making a purchase.
*Being told ‘we can’t do that because the system won’t accept it’ – this has happened to me several times, when you want to amend a standard order, especially in food outlets. Where you cannot make a small change because a computer system is set up to offer no options. Again, a great reason for me to leave.
However it’s no good being continually negative. I now take the time to thank people for good service, fill in surveys where requested and give feedback. Nothing will change if you don’t engage. I have no idea what happens to that feedback, i just know it’s worth doing. Some excellent customer service highlights for me this year:
* the patience of a store manager when one of my children was horribly embarrassed about having a bra fitting and was tearful on entering the shop.
* the excellence of an American company which supplied me with a faulty product and replaced it within 48 hours, from America, at no extra cost and did not insist on the faulty item being returned.
* the responsive attitude of a Mini Service member of staff in Swindon who listened when I explained a complaint, put it right immediately and then sought me a better deal to make me feel better – hence work on my car which I thought would be £200 at least was actually £25. Now how will I feel on entering those premises again?
So it’s all about excellent customer service – but the onus is also on me as a consumer to give feedback, to say thank you and to praise as much as possible those who go the extra mile.
I’d be interested in your experiences too….
Today I was asked to write a blog post about Twitter – so I’m happy to oblige.
Why? Well, as a media consultant and journalist I often hear comments like ‘why bother with Twitter?’ or ‘I’m on Twitter but I’ve no idea what to do’.
These phrases are familiar because a few years ago that’s exactly what I thought. When I became self-employed in 2009, I had a Twitter account which sat there doing absolutely nothing. I would occasionally send out a tweet but couldn’t really see how much good it would do for me in business.
However after about 18 months, for some reason, I really thought about it compared with other social media platforms. I realised it’s potentially a great way to connect with people – and here’s the key thing – very quickly with minimum effort. Also as a journalist, I’m often looking for good stories so this could be an effective way to achieve another good outcome. So I set myself a challenge – to give Twitter a year and try to systematically build my audience to work for me more effectively.
I put out of my mind the fact that Twitter is global, has billions of accounts, loads of spam accounts and can be risky in terms of trolling etc. I trusted my common sense to deal with these issues as they arose (and they have from time to time and I’ve dealt with them as needed). I decided to use Twitter according to my agenda, my audience and my desired business reach. Therefore good connections for me are in the south west and London, they are people rather than organisations and one key thing – I share, I share a lot, I share as much as I tweet and I share things which interest me or which I think are generally interesting. If you do this, I guarantee at some point someone will say to you ‘I really enjoy your Twitter feed you share some good stuff’ or ‘Oh yes, I saw you talking about that on Twitter’. You are creating your own news service.
Very quickly, having made that decision to take Twitter seriously, it became addictive and I got engaged in various conversations. I then decided to think about the best times to tweet – and you will find me talking most in the evenings and the mornings.
However the pivotal moment came when I saw a tweet asking for someone who could write a script and who had experience in the education sector. I answered as I met those criteria with a phrase ‘that’s me’. That tweet led to another tweet, which led to an email which led to a telephone conversation which led to a paid-for trip to London for a meeting which then led to a project which paid me £3,000. This was a short-term piece of work which I could relate directly back to a single tweet with a company which would never have found me – or vice versa – if it wasn’t for this amazing social platform.
That sold me on Twitter and I’ve had many great outcomes since. I’ve been offered work by people who’ve engaged with me, made the effort to research me online and then offered me work. I’ve been able to place publicity for clients and myself, and I’ve raised my profile in my own community in the south west. I will often go into a room full of business people – many of whom I’ve never met – and people start talking to me as if they know me. Talk about the best ice-breaker.
Another outcome is that those who are beginners now pay me to get them started on Twitter – a totally unexpected outcome. So I’ve actually put my ad hoc strategy into something more strategic and started to apply it across Facebook and, more recently Pinterest. I don’t claim to be an expert, I just understand the concept of social conversation over the internet and how to control some of that conversation. I’m still discovering and I often go to workshops by others to increase my own personal knowledge.
My top tips are:
Really be clear as to what is a good outcome on Twitter for you. That way you can track success.
When you make a clear connection – take the conversation from the virtual world to the real world.
Share, share, share.
And finally please follow me @mum3fi
As we know – this week, entertainer Rolf Harris was sent to prison for abusing children – using his celebrity status as a cloak for his disgusting activities. His past has now caught up with him, he’s paying the price and so will his family. Justice perhaps for those he abused.
He’s one of a line of people, often most famous in the 70s and 80s, who have been accused – and some subsequently convicted – of allegedly having one public persona and another private persona which is infinitely darker, sexually motivated and criminal.
Within hours, more women, many over the age of consent, starting talking about Harris’s inappropriate behaviour towards them. Then there also came the voice of those who think all of this is nonsense, a snowball out of control.
I have some sympathy with this I suppose because in those decades, some behaviour was more acceptable than it would be now. When I started out in the 1980s, I lost count of the amount of times I had my bottom pinched or slapped, or talked to someone who kept their eyes aligned with my boobs or who, on one occasion, actually told me his wife didn’t understand him. I could handle all of this – more than handle it in fact. Several times, I pinched a man’s bottom in return, told someone my face was up here and, with the ‘wife doesn’t understand me’ line, I laughed in the face of the CEO of a large company who said that to me. Positions of ‘power’ don’t impress me.
However, there were darker moments. Times when I felt the undertone was completely ‘other’ and the threat was something more. There’s a difference between banter and feeling compromised. I remember once visiting the home of a successful businessman who suddenly, quietly and firmly sexually propositioned me in front of his wife – I ran out and drove off at a rate of knots. I also remember one man, then in his 50s, and someone I often saw in the course of my job, who would keep coming up behind me and gently stroking the back of my neck. It was very invasive.
Therefore, if you know this, you might understand why I got caught up in an online spat with someone who was using phrases like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ suggesting that somehow women are ‘cashing in’ on Harris’s conviction. There seemed to be a suggestion that these women were out for money. Or were unworthy of being believed, or were somehow complicit because they didn’t do anything about it at the time. However, I would challenge any one to do something different to those victims, in the same circumstances.
Are you being abused?
Anyone who is a journalist would know that the majority of people who suffer abuse – both men and women – don’t tell anyone at all for very long periods of time. Sometimes for ever.
They will often feel they are somehow at fault, that something they did or said, did make them complicit in the act of abuse. There are refuges nationwide full of people who’ve put up with abuse for very long periods of time.
This online ‘banter’ made me very angry – because I know what Rolf Harris was like and I’ve known for years.
Why didn’t you say something I hear you all cry? It’s very simple. I’ve never met him, he did nothing to me.
However, he did do something a good friend of mine – she told me – and I believed her. Why didn’t she report it? Well, that’s a matter for her – but I can probably hazard a guess. She probably thought it wasn’t worth the hassle.
Remember the man who stroked my neck that I mentioned earlier? I did confront him and told him not to touch me again after he’d done it several times. I also did report it to my boss – a lovely man but one who appeared out of his depth and probably felt it was too minor a thing to escalate. Maybe he was right. I’d not been groped intimately. It was just the feel of that man touching me was all wrong, that’s very hard to convey in a telephone call – to your boss. To this day, I don’t know if he was told by anyone other than me that he was out of order.
However, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I’d heard all of the stories about the ‘casting couch’ though, frankly I’ve only ever met one person in my career who I thought used her womanhood to achieve her goals. I wanted a successful career and I didn’t want to get caught up in a scandal or a case which could become something really nasty. Life in the media as a working class woman was hard enough.
Imagine that man being a celebrity like Rolf Harris? Who would believe me at that time? And even if they did, what would have happened? To me? Would it have possibly damaged my career? Anyone could have accused me of inviting the attentions of a famous man. Who would have wanted to employ me as the person who’d accused Harris? Would I inadvertently become damaged goods myself?
Now, more than 20 years on, it would be different if someone acted inappropriately towards me.
Of course I don’t look the same, I’m older, I don’t have the slim figure I had then.
However, I have the same drive, the same passion for my chosen path – but I also have experience. My experience has shown me that if someone makes me feel threatened – I should listen to that instinct and act on it.
If someone acts inappropriately towards me – is he going to do it to someone else? Has he done it to anyone before me? Experience has taught me that it’s highly likely. For that reason, today, I’d make much noise.
And to those women who found the courage to speak out – you might inspire others who have kept such abuse a secret – thus throwing the spotlight on offenders who’ve been able to hide their behaviour for a life time.
Enjoying a meal together
This is part two of a story which I started telling during national Carers’ Week last week – it’s very easy to have a stereotypical view of what a carer looks like. However, in my experience, no one chooses such a role. Life simply demands it – and it’s not easy and support can be sadly lacking. Please feel free to comment and share Steve & Robert’s story….
I met both Steve and Robert where we spent an afternoon discussing their lives together in the garden of their very quintessential English home in Wiltshire. I think, I should clarify, given the context of this article. I met Steve for a couple of hours before Robert joined us.
When he did I was struck by two things immediately – how young he is at 44 years old, and how ill he looks. His movements were so deliberate and very slow as if every step took an effort of will. I felt his taking the time and trouble to meet and talk to me was important however bad a day he was experiencing.
The couple have been together since 1999, and they were one of the first gay couples in Wiltshire to enter into a civil partnership on December 22 2005. Professionally Robert is a costume designer and the couple had met when he was working on a children’s television programme.
Steve said: “He was, and is, a very good-looking guy. He had such a zest for life, he was hugely compassionate and generous. Often in the media industry you work alongside people who are very self-obsessed and quite shallow but I knew very quickly that Robert was different. He’s made me become a better person myself. He has a strong spiritual belief, loves nature and the countryside – while I was a complete townie,” Steve, 52, said.
Life was good. A couple in love, with a great social life, spending much time in London, both earning a healthy living and then moving to the countryside to a dream home close to one of Robert’s favourite places in the world – Avebury.
Things changed when, about seven years ago, Robert caught a summer ‘flu’ but just didn’t seem to be able to get rid of it. Numerous visits to the GP led to a diagnosis of a virus. It was several months until a different diagnosis was made.
ME/CFS is a poorly understood condition and because there is no definitive medical test, some people still do not believe it actually exists.
The Countess of Mar, in a debate in the House of Lords in October 2011 stated: “ME has been classified as a neurological condition since at least 1968… however, for all these years, sufferers from this awful debilitating illness have been ignored, derided and mistreated… It seems that no matter how often ministers and senior officials confirm their acceptance of the seriousness of this condition, nothing will change until the culture both within and outside the NHS changes.”
ME/CFS is a debilitating neurological condition that affects at least four in 1,000 people; women, men and children of all ages and backgrounds. It causes persistent, profound fatigue that is not cured by sleep; muscle pain that worsens after any physical activity and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It can be mild to severe, and for many people it lasts for years. It can sometimes get better and it can often recur. There is no known cause, treatment or cure. It’s more common in women than men.
Steve said: “I’ve become aware of the government gradually dismantling the safety net which we’ve had in place since the end of World War II. If you fall into difficulty, you are now very much on your own.
“It’s an enormous shock when the wheels come off, and you realise there is virtually no help available. We are an extremely rich country – more billionaires live in London than any other capital city in the world.
“According to the Sunday Times Rich List the wealth of the richest has doubled in the past five years (15% rise in the past year alone).
“Yet we are sitting passively watching the dismantlement of the welfare state – something we could afford during the post-war austerity years, but something we are told is too expensive now. I worry for others who might find themselves in similar or worse positions due to no fault of their own, just the misfortune to be ill.”
“For people who are really sick and need care there is now the extra suffering the govt policies / Atos have brought on the long term sick, and cuts in services. If we are struggling and finding it hard my heart goes out to people in more difficult circumstances and for people struggling on their own with no one to care for them. I can’t imagine how they cope.”
Steve has struggled with the fact that there appears to be no practical support for someone in his situation, little access to any kind of respite and, having exhausted their savings, little, if any, financial support.
In order for Steve to work at all, he has to rely on the generosity of friends to come in to spend time with, and care for, Robert when he goes to work. It also means planning has also entered Steve’s life in a big way.
“Carers Support Wiltshire has been good at offering an ear. It seems that there are plenty of places where one can get some emotional help or telephone counselling but to be honest it’s the practical help and assistance that would be more useful.
“I often have a problem that in order to leave the house and go to work I’d like to be able to request physical help from someone who could come and spend an hour or so supporting Robert while I’m away and ensuring he has food at meal times as he is often unable to prepare this for himself.
“But this kind of practical help isn’t available and certainly not at an affordable price. Being a carer has greatly reduced my ability to earn and help is not available at all to those who rely on sickness benefits. To get this you really have to turn to private care agencies where you are likely to get a different person on each occasion which is likely to be more distressing for the person needing the care.
“We already see how appalling this kind of help is for older vulnerable people requiring care in the home – a rushed 15 minute visit simply isn’t good enough.
“But these things cost money and it seems we as a nation are not prepared to fund it. I have a stressful situation coming up in August as I have been offered a job I would like to do but I will have to spend a couple of days away from home in Edinburgh. This will be very stressful for Robert not having me around to give the support he needs. It would be great if there were some official support I could rely on – even pay to contribute towards.
“Mornings are not good for Robert, he gets very disturbed sleep is an integral part of his illness and often he won’t be up until at least 10.30am.
“It’s very important to his health us that he eats well as his body is unable to function at all without adequate and good quality nutrition. So we don’t have any processed foods at all. So I have to prepare breakfast and then I have to plan meals and cook ready for the day – especially if I need to leave to go work.
“I do have to arrange for someone to come around and spend time with Robert and ensure there’s some food which can just be popped in the oven.
“This means I have to work from home a lot but sometimes that’s just not possible. When you are directing a programme like the Graham Norton Show you have to be in the tv studio on set and on time because that is how our show is made.
“This is the job that I love and I obviously need to work to earn a living to support us both. But sometimes it makes me feel very bad, really awful when Robert is so ill and just doesn’t want to be left on his own.
“But the world of telly is demanding – people are sympathetic to a point but you fast realise when you are self employed people just want you to get on with your job without making a fuss.”
Gone are the days when Steve can stay behind after work for a drink with the rest of his work colleagues. He feels compelled to get home as quickly as possible if Robert has been alone for many hours.
“I have no social life outside of my life with Robert. This means I feel a bit estranged from my colleagues and after a while, socially, you just get forgotten.”
None of what Steve has said is news to Robert. He’s well aware of the impact his condition has had on his partner.
“I know if I’d been on my own I would have gone under,” Robert said. “If I look back at myself in the 1980s and 1990s, I was a media worker leading an exciting and fulfilling life. Now I’m a shadow of my former self. Steve is my support and my rock and like him, I do often feel that there is too little compassion out there.
“We need to have more compassion for people. I’m a very social person, I loved my job and my life and I didn’t want to lose it. I feel guilty that I’m ill so much of the time and guilty that Steve is in this with me.”
Robert has found some solace in writing both journals and books and in his art. He hopes that one day he might be able to publish these or find an outlet for some of his work.
Robert said: “The support needed for people with these conditions is practically non-existent. As there is no effective treatment you’re essentially left on your own. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture are very effective in relieving pain for example, but they are a hugely unaffordable expense for most people.
“Travel discount passes or parking privileges would be hugely helpful due to the extremely restricted mobility, but regulations make it nearly impossible to qualify for one.
“Isolation is a particular problem for many disabled people with restricted mobility and lack of help with this means that you are essentially left on your own to cope with very little support. It certainly makes you one of life’s survivors.
“I am speaking mainly about the condition I have – CFS. It’s a condition with an invisible disability. If the disability is not immediately apparent, then it is often side-lined and misunderstood.
“It seems to me and many others the current government are targeting the most vulnerable and that’s is a shocking insight into where we find ourselves in modern Britain.”
Steve said: “I have to say when I look at the values of modern Britain I am ashamed. Hate crimes against disabled people are at their highest levels since records began, with an increase in 50% between 2009 and 2011,. These figures correlate strongly with the “welfare reforms” brought in by the government. What the general public are unaware of, is that 6.5 million provide unpaid care to family, friends and neighbours suffering from long-term physical or mental ill health, disability or old age, saving the state £119 billion a year. There is also an adverse effect on the economy as a whole through losing skilled workers who find the conflicting demands of both caring and working impossible. More practical support for carers would enable more carers to work.
I understand that public money is tight and that there needs to be some form of means-testing for benefits, but providing services should be an equitable asset for the population as a whole. The threshold for getting help is now so low, you have to be virtually destitute before you are entitled to very small amounts.”
Every day 6,000 people will take on a caring role in the UK. It’s believed there are about 6.5m people offering unpaid care to a family member or friend.
Carers help with personal things such as getting someone washed and dressed, turning them in their sleep, helping them move about or administering their medication. They also help, or take on complete responsibility for tasks like shopping, laundry, cleaning, cooking, filling in forms or managing money.