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May, 2012

Olympics, Paralympics? What benefits will come to Swindon?

Last week I saw the Olympic Torch come through Swindon and it was a proud moment – and it has made me reflect on our county’s involvement in the greatest show on earth.

We have many Olympic hopefuls based in Wiltshire – runners, swimmers, fencers, event riders, tennis players etc. Did you know that? And that doesn’t include others who’ve got more technical roles around the event, those who’ve volunteered and those who’ve been selected to carry the Torch.

First Olympic Torch bearer in Swindon

There are many individual stories around the Olympics and Paralympics which will come up every day in the local media over the coming weeks and months. But something’s missing…

Over the last few months, I’ve felt that Swindon has largely failed to become part of this great event – when it’s so close to London and easily within travelling distance of the Games. When Olympic teams are going to be based as far away as Bath, I have just felt that we aren’t getting any part of that action.

Have we been lazy when it comes to the Olympics?

I may be wrong in this assumption. I stand to be corrected. Maybe those who are responsible for economic development, tourism etc in the town have had a grand plan which is quietly, successfully working behind the scenes.

However, I don’t think so. Why is this?  We have had as much passion for this event as any other town up and down the country. Have we had a strategic, proactive business plan to attract tourists or visitors as this show rolls into our country? There seems to have been no will to harness this energy, this buzz, this opportunity.

Swindon is a great town. It’s got heritage, it’s got convenience, it’s part of one of the prettiest counties in the country, it’s got fantastic transport links – what’s not to like?

I suppose it’s too late now but I’d like to say to anyone out there who is travelling to the UK for this event – don’t dismiss Swindon, it might surprise you.


I don’t want to talk about Rebekah or Charlie Brooks – okay?

We all know it was all over the news yesterday, don’t we? Among the chatter and noise, there were a few voices of reason – saying ‘shut up!’, ‘contempt of court‘. I responded to a couple. Is this going to be the case where the social media chatter and speculation and judgements cause a court case to collapse? Is that in anyone’s interests?

That’s all I plan to say on that matter. However in a quieter corner of social media land, I stumbled across an interesting debate on whether or not it is legal to ‘name and shame’ a company online when they’ve not paid their bills or allegedly given bad service. I joined that chatter as it interests me as a journalist – though, I’m no lawyer.

It was a timely debate because only last week such a message about a company in the Bath area was put on Twitter and I flagged up how damaging that can be with the social media outlets we all have access to these days. It’s easy for someone to vent their spleen over such things. Within seconds though, many Tweeters had defended this company and supported it. I felt it right that I re-tweet those comments to redress the balance. For me, the fact that that happened did re-dress the balance. So even if that company had that negative comment on its Twitterfeed on its website, for example, the positive comments would come in behind and cancel out the effect. If the company then went on to deal positively with that complaint (as it should any way), a negative can become a positive.

So back to the debate. Can you post statements online about a company’s bad service, non-payment or any matter about a company or organisation – would that make you subject to legal action? My answer is yes, you can put anything you like online about a company even if it’s defamatory. But like anything, beware the consequences. We do live in a democracy and we should have freedom of speech.

Defamation can be defended. If what you are saying is true and you have paperwork to support your claim, it’s fine. If it’s your experience and then you claim it’s true, ask yourself can the company defend itself against such claims? If it cannot, you are fine. Truth is the best defence – though there are others such as fair comment and public interest. These are harder to prove.

For me it’s about common sense.

Also beware of ‘malicious’ intent – it’s fine to say “I’m having a problem with such and such company, is anyone out there having problems too?’ but it’s not fine to get Twitter followers to continually malign that said company, especially if they have no direct experience of it. What I don’t know is if it’s fine for people to keep re-tweeting negative messages. I don’t think this has been examined in court yet.

People have a very funny view of defamation and libel. It’s the same with invasion of privacy. As journalists we often come across this. Don’t assume that just because you don’t want something said, that it won’t be expressed.

Don't tell tall stories online - stick to the truth....

I once had a recruitment agency in the Swindon area which threatened to take me to court if I mentioned the fact that one of its former employees was taking it to an industrial tribunal. What nonsense! I almost shrieked with laughter.

Industrial tribunals are public events and the press are informed of them – any journalist can go along and report on proceedings. If someone lies in those proceedings (same with a court) as long as a company is approached for a right of reply, a journalist is free to print that lie with any response (contemporaneously). If the company doesn’t like it, that’s tough and  completely irrelevant.

I recently had someone talk to me about an inquest and how could she stop a journalist attending as a family member had passed away suddenly and it was traumatic all round. I gently told her that she couldn’t. An inquest is a public event and journalists are informed. It’s often fifty/fifty whether they will turn up or not – but they are perfectly entitled to do so. In this case, as it happens, no journalist attended.

I had another case where I was producing a short film about a Cheltenham-based company which was clearly  ripping people off for thousands of pounds. We contacted the boss  – remember, you can only defame a person, not a company – and he responded with legal threats.

The day of transmission, he turned up at the studio with a lawyer and sat in a room with us outlining why we were defaming him, his fellow director and therefore his company. It was a long drawn-out meeting but we knew he had no real defence. The pivotal moment came when I said ‘you’re right we are defaming you’. He was silenced by this. I went on to say ‘but there are defences for doing so and one is ‘it’s true’. His solicitor nodded in agreement. The item was aired that night.

The funny thing was, about two months’ later,  I had a call from this man’s solicitor. He wanted  me to know – and laugh ironically – at the fact that he had been employed to defend this business man’s honour (and I use the term loosely) and had not been paid! Probably never was!

Toothache from hell – was my pain worse than yours?

Yesterday  I didn’t function as a business person, in fact I barely functioned at all.

I had toothache, to a level I’ve never experienced before and I’ve given birth three times. It built up over about 24 hours and I did that female thing of thinking it would get better, it would get better, it would get better. Have a paracetamol or two and all will be fine.

However, when I tried to floss the area where the pain seemed to be coming from, I almost fainted. Some one had stabbed me with a fine red hot poker in my mouth.

Toothache - my pain was greater than yours!

Now anyone who knows me, will know that I’m not backward in coming forward about my personal experiences of the health service. When I’m making a dentist appointment I have to wait months, not weeks, to fit my family in for routine checks. My dentist is an NHS dentist so I accept this and book well in advance. My dentist is also a mum of two beautiful girls and she often has time off during school holidays. So you can see the problem? I’m a mum and want to book appointments in the school holidays and my dentist isn’t working. Routine appointments are not instant.

So coping with terrible pain, facing a day of work including an important interview with a contributor for a magazine article, I really didn’t know how I’d get through. I called my dentist, tried to explain and was able to book an appointment for today. Not too bad, indeed quite impressive.

Within two hours, two things changed. My interview was cancelled, not by me. And the pain got even worse. Suddenly 10am today seemed like a month away. It was a mountain too high to climb. I called the dentist again and to my surprise, they fitted me in within the hour.

How I drove there I will never know. The only thing which helped the pain was very cold water, so I had to slurp water every 20 seconds just to stay upright. Luckily my dentist isn’t far away but I was very aware that I was not functioning properly. When I got there I must have looked awful as I was told to go straight up.

My dentist tested the area where the problem lay and I almost hit the ceiling. A failed filling was removed which required three injections so I could cope with the pain. A temporary filling was fitted. With a numb face, I left that a warning that the pain would probably return for a while until things had settled. No abscess, no infection – a crack in the tooth. Would try to save it, but I might end up losing it. So be it.

Reflecting on this experience has made me think two things – how responsive my dental practice was in helping me out and how they understood instantly how much pain I was suffering. Thank you Clyde House Dental Practice of Bath Road, Old Town.

It also made me think more generally about those who are disabled by chronic pain. At about 3am this morning, the pain almost disappeared. It was quite instant and has transformed me, I could go to sleep for a start. I cannot imagine how anyone can deal with strong pain day in and day out and function normally in any way at all.

Just 24 or so hours of this made me look at the experience of at least three people I know who deal with unbelievable pain every hour of every day. You have my respect.



Giving to charity? Cash doesn’t seem to be welcome now…..

Surely any donation is worth having?......

I’m really intrigued to know what strategies the third sector are using to keep donations flooding in – are you?

The reason? In the last few months I’ve been heavily targeted by charities in order to get me to sign up, sign on or donate regularly – which is something I don’t want to do.

Recently I had a telephone call from someone claiming to be carrying out some research for a charity which has a shop in Swindon and they wanted my feedback on my experience of that establishment. Like an idiot, I answered the questions and then, hardly taking a breath, the young woman asked if I would sign up to £6 a month. When I challenged her that she had misled me initially, she denied this. I refused her offer, only for it to change to £3 a month for a longer period. She then launched into a really long spiel about being a private company which had pledged to raise blah, blah, blah for the charity and this company would be paid a fee of £75,000. That was some time ago and I blogged angrily about it at the time – I hate being cold-called, lied to and then when I say no, completely ignored.

But another local charity was collecting outside my local supermarket over the weekend. I do hate being accosted when I’m shopping and I get fed up when Sainsbury’s and others allowing customers to be hassled when doing a shop. But I can see it’s a legitimate way of fund raising. However, it is a matter of choice whether you give or not and I refuse to feel guilty for choosing not to give. On this occasion I was willing as it was Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

This organisation does fantastic, life-saving work and is deserving of our support. So I got out my purse and asked where I should put my donation of £5. I was then presented with a form and told that they couldn’t take any money today but I could only choose to sign up for a year or for a single donation of about £26.


How many people coming into or out of the supermarket that day would willing sign up to paying £26 minimum rather than give 50p or £1 or £5? Do they really find enough people who are willing to enter into a long-term commitment to give money to this charity? Is that better than getting people to ‘pay as you go’?

I know the air ambulance is losing a lot of funding shortly and that’s very worrying. But we are all in the same boat here and I believe the third sector should give people every single option when it comes to giving.

For me – I hate this ‘I’m going to make you commit’ approach. I don’t like to feel I’m being managed in this way, especially when it comes to money. As a business person, I ensure that clients or potential clients engage me in a way that suits their budget and cash flow. So some want long-term or medium-term support, others want to pay as you go.

So why didn’t this charity do the same? Many people who are out shopping are doing so on a restricted budget. Food bills have soared in the last couple of years. So I suspect that many shoppers would spare a pound or two, but will flatly refuse to give a much higher sum. Or they will take the paperwork and bin it at the earliest opportunity.

I’d be fascinated to know if this fund raising approach is working – maybe it is and I’m just being churlish. But experience of the third sector has taught me that people give the most when they have had a need, or someone they know has used an important service. That way people then do specific fund-raising events, sign up to a monthly commitment or leave something in a will.

What do you think?


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