As I was quietly contemplating today’s first new blog post, one literally popped into my head. Well, ‘pop’ is not quite the right word, more like ‘screeched’.
I’m not joking. On the little housing estate where I live, it is quite sedate so loud noises really ring out. I heard the screeching of tyres, twice. Rushing to the window, like the neighbour from hell, I thought ‘right, I’ll clock who that was and talk to them or their parents’. I’m afraid I thought it was a young person going far too fast in a residential area.
As I live on a corner, I do get a lot of kids playing football outside as it’s very spacious. I don’t mind, makes the place sound lively but cars do need to be careful.
But I was wrong. A blue car shrieked round the corner and stopped at right angles to my home, right across the road and a guy opened the door and ran off, a second shimmied over from the driver’s side and ran after him. I thought ‘bloody hell, they’re leaving their car in the middle of the road’. Both men were black and, I’m ashamed to say, I thought ‘is it drugs?’ as I realised I was witnessing the aftermath of a crime of some sort.
Then I heard more shrieking brakes and two police cars came and a police community support officer came belting round the corner shouting. I could hear other voices so I assume that another police car had come the other way – a classic pincer movement on my doorstep.
A few seconds later, the running police officer came back with a man in handcuffs – the other one was nowhere in sight, worryingly. Then followed a long time of talking, sitting, on the radio, gathering and chatting, back slapping by police officers and PCSOs. I watched them do a cursory search of the car but nothing was found as far as I could see.
Now as a journalist, did I take pictures! You bet I did, as soon as I realised this was a little bit of drama. Then I thought can I use them? I itch to use them. They’re not that exciting, I have to say as the two men had run off before I had time to even think ‘camera’.
Should I use them?
Let’s think about it. These two men could be innocent of any crime. Unlikely as innocent people don’t shriek away from police cars, abandon their ‘own’ car in the middle of a street and run off. But they could be. Is there likely to be a court case? Who knows? Would my showing the pictures prejudice that case? Possibly if one defendant’s case was that he wasn’t there I suppose? Or that the car wasn’t his? Or he wasn’t in the car?
The pictures clearly identify the car, and one of the men, so should I use them? They do show that this is a nice street and give the impression that such an event is highly unusual and quite exciting. But then that would be the case for most of us. They show that the police acted quickly to deal with it, with the minimum of fuss although there was quite a bit of hanging around afterwards.
On balance, I’ve decided not to publish some of the pictures in case the police decide to knock on my door, or the suspect (or his mate) does the same! But what I’m telling you is true, even if slightly pointless!
high drama on a Wiltshire street - well for a Thursday afternoon
It’s great when you’ve got a long drive home from the office to listen to the radio – Five Live is my choice – and enjoy the ride.
All I'm interested in is the tennis.....
I’m sure it’s the same for you if you have a long commute (mum or not).
So Wimbledon is good for me as it’s gentle entertainment and it’s a sport I can watch or listen to easily – which is saying something as I’m not good at sustaining interest in long drawn-out matches. I always feel there should be something else that would be more productive. But stuck in car, it has its place in my life. I also think there’s something about the sound of the ball which is comforting, like a loud ticking clock.
However I did get a bit frustrated yesterday when listening to the commentary on the match between Andy Murray and his opponent Feliciano Lopez.
Now commentating on a sport is a special skill if you give it some thought. You have to describe in detail what’s happening so that the listener can visualise and you have to keep talking, as naturally, as possible almost continuously.
Give it a try….look at a sport you love and commentate on it for an hour. It’s exhausting. I’ve tried it once or twice and it’s difficult.
For those who love sport, the most awkward time for chatting is often when there are breaks in play. So you get a lot of repetition, cliches and idle chit-chat.
However, I’ve generally found that the Wimbledon tv teams stick very much to the play and players’ form and rarely digress.
That’s what I expect. So I was rather surprised to hear a male commentator talking about Lopez rather personally. Something about him being so proud of his appearance that he spends ages looking at himself in the mirror. Did anyone care about that? Not me.
He went on to say that Lopez wouldn’t like the way that he looked right now if he could see it. Well as I’m listening to the radio – I can’t. Was he sweaty? Was his hair untidy? Was his make-up running? What irrelevant twaddle. I don’t think Lopez gave a stuff what he looked like as he was desperately trying to hold his own (and failing) against Murray.
These comments gave the strong impression that Lopez’s tennis was so mediocre, even poor, that the only thing worth talking about was what he looked like. Then the speaker started referring to what Murray’s mum thought about Lopez, calling him Deliciano! And Murray didn’t really like that. Okay. But what’s that got to do with the match in hand?
How does Lopez want us to think about him? Good looking guy who dresses up to play reasonable tennis or damn good tennis player? I wonder.
Also, let’s try to avoid the personal. I didn’t hear the commentator talk about Murray’s looks, ugly or goodlooking? Handsome or not? Great hair or unruly locks? Big nose or lips? No comments on how often he looks in the mirror or how much he considers his appearance when he’s been running a marathon around a tennis court trying to return serves of 130mph. Does Murray care about any of that during a tennis match? I think not – I certainly don’t.
There’s so much to say at Wimbledon, particularly on a day when the sublime Roger Federer got beaten by the courageous Tsonga, that there’s no need to pick up on tabloid obsession.
Let’s give all of that rest and enjoy the tennis!
My son was ill over the weekend. Why am I just not surprised that he was fine all week but late on Friday night he started to get a temperature and show signs of sickness.
Can you diagnose the depth of your child's illness?
Next morning, as he sat lethargically on the sofa, I decided to bite the bullet and attend the drop-in health centre that I’d been to many times before – in a building attached to the local hospital. Part of the out-of-hours service.
I didn’t call the out-of-hours’ number because I’d be given a choice, go to the drop-in or wait for a nurse to call you back and tell you to…..go to the same NHS Walk-In Centre. Why waste even more time being told what I already knew?
Imagine my surprise then, when I got to the place that I’d visited many times before to have ears and throat checked – they wouldn’t see me.
Oh no, no longer would they deal with ‘minor’ issues. On the door was a big notice showing a depiction of of a body with a list of all the minor ailments that they wouldn’t deal with any longer.
The fact that many of those things in children require medicines only available on prescription seemed totally over looked. As I knew my boy had an ear or throat infection, I had to either go to another drop-in health centre miles away or call my GP (closed).
Great. So not only do I have to decide whether nor not his illness is bad enough to go to Accident & Emergency (or not). I now have to decide whether or not his illness is suitable for the drop-in centre that I’d used countless times before without any problem.
As a parent, I now have to self-diagnose my child’s illness at two levels – and if I get it wrong, I’ll have to deal with some snooty receptionist who will probably consider me to be exceedingly dense.
I totally accept that some people turn up at Accident & Emergency for a stubbed toe and, maybe, at the drop-in centre for a sore pimple – but MOST OF US DON’T DO THAT! MOST OF US DON’T WANT TO SPEND HOURS WAITING FOR A NECESSARY BOTTLE OF ANTIBIOTICS WHICH WE’LL HAVE TO INFLICT ON OUR OFFSPRING FOR A WEEK OR MORE!
How come when I was a kid, my GP would come out to see me – in fact even offered to do so when I was ill? I had loads of throat infections when I was small so my GP always knew what I had, but still came, even once on Boxing Day.
Now, blah years’ later, we are supposed to be more responsive to people, more flexible, ready to meet patients’ needs – instead we just seem to be making most parents’ job even harder.
I went off again to another NHS drop-in centre and waited two hours for a nurse to diagnose a severe throat infection which required antibiotics.
If I’d lost the will to live and given up, my boy would have suffered for another 48 hours before I could have got to the GP. If I’d had no means of transport, I’d have spent hours getting backwards and forwards.
Somehow I just don’t see any of this as an improvement in basic health care.
HAVING an interest in consumer affairs means I often have to look in details about issues around insurance.
For example, you won’t find me paying hundreds to insure my new washing machine as, I believe, it’s hardly ever worth the cost and companies will do everything they can not to pay out when there’s a problem.
But here’s my latest and very personal gripe.
My daughter is 17 and has just passed her driving test. Remember what that felt like? The freedom. The promise of independence.
I remember when I was in her position, it felt like the world was my oyster and I was suddenly free. No more relying on my parents (my dad only had a motorbike) or catching buses at awkward times.
My parents weren’t well off, so whatever I had I had to pay for – a good lesson in life I think. But with a Saturday and holiday job, and using my savings to buy a car, this was all within my reach.
But for my teenage girl, there’s a shadow over all of this – the phenomenal cost of car insurance.
This is on top of the decision of whether or not to go to university and thus take on the 30-year ‘tax’ burden of paying for her higher education.
Initially her car, worth maybe £300 at a push, would cost her £1,900 to insure for a year. But just before she passed her test, the equality change came in and pushed her premium up to £2,400.
My girl is not lazy, she has a weekend job, works extra during the week when she can, so she knows the value of money. She’s studying, so is not in full-time work.
But her car insurance is more than double that of the two cars in our household which are insured for two drivers, high mileage and full business use! I find it so hard to justify that.
I don’t fully blame the insurance industry for this need to promote equality between male and female drivers but I do question whether this is about equality at all.
I would normally be first in line to defend the rights of women or men against discrimination.
But insurance is based on risk – and risk statistics dictate (it’s a fact) that young boys aged 17 – 25 are the highest risk for having an accident.
I know this better than most having made a documentary about it a few months ago. Their risks are much higher and part of this is to do with their psychological development. They are at the height of their risk-taking vibe during this time. Fact.
Also the insurance industry in bringing in these changes could be said to be hypocritical.
Isn’t it unfair to charge someone over the age of 65 more for their travel insurance? Isn’t that discrimination too? Age-ist? To have a blanket policy for everyone over the age of 65?
If asked to justify this, the insurance industry would probably say that these people are at ‘higher’ risk of a problem while on holiday.
This just proves my point – insurance should be based on risk, risks which can be proved through independent data, and issues around gender should not come into it.
To me, teenage drivers, particularly females, are seen as a cash cow for picking up the cost of more claims. Claims, in my view, should go up according to how many accidents you have, how many times you commit a driving offence etc. Oh, but I forgot, they do go up then don’t they? So the insurance industry wins whichever ‘line’ it chooses to take.
why should young girls pay thousands in car insurance?
What do you think?
Today was sports day at my children’s school. It was a fun day and they did really well. I took some great pics and was all ready to publish them in action on Facebook – didn’t really think about it being a problem.
can we put sports' day photos on the internet? should we?
Then a text arrived which stated that no photos could be put on to the internet at all.
This immediately raised my heckles. How dare anyone tell me not to publish photographs that I had taken of my children with my camera! Angry I fumed on Facebook.
I checked up with the Information Commission’s website which suggests that some schools do go too far – saying parents cannot video or photograph children taking part in school events and that’s not in the spirit of Data Protection.
Schools, it said, should not hide behind this as it does not cover photography for private use.
But what is private use? As far as I can see it doesn’t say ‘don’t put these photographs on the internet’ – though education guidance does say that.
Schools get very upset with mums like me. I do question things which seem to invade my freedom. Just because a headteacher says it is so – is it? just because a lawyer says it is so – is it? Why should we just say ‘yes miss, no miss’ when we’re adults?
I’ve filmed a lot in schools and the permission process is extremely rigorous – rightly so. I’ve often had to film around one or two children whose images cannot be shown and that’s fine. Some children need to be protected for clear, identifiable reasons.
I took the opportunity to talk to some other mums. One, a teacher, said she was happy and gave the impression that I was being like a stubborn child not to bow to this edict about personal sports day photos.
‘We are lucky,’ she said ‘that the school allows us to take pictures’.
Another mum said she could see both sides – there are several children in the school who cannot be filmed/photographed for their own protection. This I do get.
Using a photograph of your child, with someone who needs to be protected in the background, and should not be shown – well, I can see the logic in that.
However if I can crop the pictures and just show my children I can see nothing wrong with that decision as a parent, if I wish to publish. Of course, I do ask my children’s permission as they are old enough to be consulted about such things.
Of course all of this caution is often about protecting children from child sex offenders – who find the internet a fantastic place to hunt and hide in secret.
But does that mean that we have to abandon common sense and never put any photographs of our children on the net? Are we allowing these individuals (and there are more than most people think) to rule our freedom online? Should we?
My gut feeling is no. Why should we? Provided we do not reveal too much personal information, should we be that paranoid? Isn’t that giving these people more power?
And then a friend sent me a personal message. This friend reminded me that a former colleague is currently awaiting trial on various charges of child abuse including rape – someone that we were both connected to on the internet.
It brought me up short. This friend had had more contact with this man – but even the thought that someone could be looking at my children from afar and thinking vile thoughts was awful.
I‘d allowed this individual to enter my internet world – this was someone I’d known in ‘real’ life and hadn’t thought twice about connecting with.
I cannot pass comment on this individual as he’s innocent until proved guilty. However this friend has now removed all photographs of her children from the internet as she’s so shocked at this turn of events.
What have I concluded? Truth, I still feel uncomfortable about being told what to do with my own photographs.
I’m happy to not show others when I don’t have their permission to publish but I don’t want my natural actions restricted by the phantoms of gross human beings who want to prey on children for sexual gratification.
I do feel that there will come a time when social media sites will have to be both public and personal – it will be interesting
to see how these definitions evolve over time.
What do you think?
Last week I described a scenario to you where a police officer had almost come to blows with a company over the purchase of a very expensive motorhome.
To re-cap, the £40,000 vehicle was a lemon and the company was refusing to replace it, blaming everyone under the sun, especially the manufacturer of the vehicle.
Under the Sale of Goods Act, it’s the retailer who is responsible for providing a product that’s fit for purpose – not the manufacturer. This is especially true if faults occur during the first six months of ownership. But this police officer was getting nowhere.
That’s where the journalist comes into the mix (me) as the police officer contacts the programme I’m working on at the time. After said police officer guarantees that nothing will stand in his way of taking part in any filming – I get to work. This involves collating and verifying paperwork against story, contacting the relevant company.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, the company says it will back down and replace the vehicle.
Result! Happy police officer.
I contact him to arrange filming but he doesn’t answer. And he doesn’t answer, and he doesn’t answer. No e-mails are answered either.
Eventually after some days, I get hold of him when he rather sheepishly admits that he knows he’s going to get a new vehicle. But the catch is that he will only get it, if he pulls out of any filming.
I ask him if he is going to pull out – and despite all of his earlier protestations of ‘I’m my own man’ and ‘no one will manipulate me’ – he’s well and truly manipulated.
He refuses to cooperate further, while acknowledging that he wouldn’t have had this offer if it hadn’t been for my intervention.
I asked you what you would do if you were the police officer? Would you feel any commitment to me, the journalist, who brought about this offer? Or not? Would you give in to, what is effectively, blackmail?
I’m not sure what I would do – I would want to say no and go ahead with the story. After all, there’d been months of anguish and I would be entitled to a replacement or my money back if I’d gone to court. But who knows what pressure I’d be under to give in?
What could I as the journalist do about this man’s decision? The truth is very little.
I’d not filmed a shot so I was stuffed for a tv story about him – though we had looked at other complaints about the same company. This had been the strongest of the lot. I could (as he’d willingly given me his paperwork to back up his story) have written an article for the local newspaper, naming him and the company and there would have been little he could have done about it. If it’s true, it’s true. I didn’t do this.
For the company, they’d had a lucky escape from bad publicity, though if that company had had any gumption they might have seen it as a chance to get their brand on air, with an apology and shots of ‘here you are Mr Police Officer, let me hand over the keys to your new vehicle’.
Even though it is, on the face of it a bad news story, it’s precious air-time which you might not otherwise get. You could have put a spin on it of ‘ here’s company that puts rights its mistakes’ etc. But few company bosses are that courageous.
As a viewer, how do you feel about companies which actually turn up to
would you throw away your principles for a new motorhome?
put their side on programmes like the BBC’s Watchdog for example. I always think ‘well at least they’ve had the courage to stand up and be counted’. To me it always looks as if you’ve got something to hide if you are super defensive.
Regardless, this is a very common if frustrating problem when you work in consumer journalism – and I suppose us journalists will never totally overcome it.
Only a week or so ago I warned about chattering about court cases on social media sites. Mad really, given how much I like to chatter myself.
But there’s chatter – and there’s chatter. Talking about a court case when you’ve little knowledge of how our judicial system works is very dangerous. Doing the same if you are a juror in a court case is a complete no-no.
Gossiping about a court case in this way can lead to a trial collapsing – as it has in this case – and then there may be a re-trial. Or people who are potentially guilty of a crime may get off on a technicality. That’s not in anybody’s public interest. And there’s the waste of time and money by police, court staff, lawyers.
Keep your mouth shut if you are a juror - including online.
And now it’s been proved. A woman jailed for eight months for contempt of court when she had an online conversation with another woman who’d been acquitted earlier in the same trial.
This juror’s chatter, which was about her fellow jurors and their deliberations, has now cost her dear. Gossip gone mad. But even had she not mentioned the case at all, just the mere connection with someone involved in the case might have been enough.
What this case shows to me is that the internet is not immune to UK law.
The judge looked at the motivation and actions of the individual – not at where she expressed her views or comments. The same effect would have come about if she’d published a letter in The News of the World.
The question for me is – how can this be avoided in the future? Can it be avoided?
Is our use of the internet now so powerful and pervasive that we cannot help but interact on line?
The BBC correspondent covering the case did suggest that we might have to consider being more relaxed about our court cases, as they are in America where journalists (everyone in fact) has much more freedom to speak out.
And how many times has this happened and the chatter has never reached a ears of a judge or jury or magistrate? I bet it’s a few, maybe a lot.
I find this whole issue fascinating. But it’s not one I’ll be testing out myself. I don’t fancy spending eight months in jail – or even the four months she’ll actually do if she behaves herself.
Wonder if she’ll tell us about her experience on Facebook? What’s her name again?…..
I went on a course last week about ‘safe recruitment’ in my role as chair of a local pre-school.
Even as volunteers, we’re expected to develop a knowledge of safeguarding children – a sentiment I applaud.
The course on the whole was good and highlighted to me the importance of working hard to keep paedophiles away from children. It’s all about reducing risk – not eliminating it, as that’s impossible.
All of this in the light of the Panorama about the mis-treatment of vulnerable adults in a setting in South Gloucestershire.
During the course though, one of the speakers put up images of two newspaper articles about court cases involving paedophiles. The headlines used words like ‘predator’ etc with pictures of two men staring madly.
The speaker said that the media had got it wrong when it came to dealing with paedophiles, their language was wrong and articles such as these don’t give the real truth.
The real truth being that paedophiles don’t look like monsters, are rarely strangers and often look like the nice guy who lives next door, the helpful guy round the corner or the lovely lady who always helps you out.
Unfortunately for the speaker, this was not something I could just leave without comment. It’s such a yawn to hear that well worn phrase ‘the media has got it wrong’ as if that excuse covers all ills.
Over coffee, I tackled her. She said that I must agree with her and I said I completely disagreed.
This is why.
The law around reporting sexual offences is very strict, so the only cases the media can report in any detail are those few (often the most terrible, and the most lurid) which reach the courts.
Most journalists know that there are far more sexual offenders out there than the public realize and often they are very close to home.
Also one of the biggest barriers to reporting these disturbing facts are social services departments.
These departments often run scared of the press and, even when given lots of assurances, won’t trust a journalist to protect the identity of vulnerable victims or witnesses (even though the law says we must).
But when these professionals allow quality journalism to take place – things can be changed, sometimes very quickly.
I’ve overcome this media fear a couple of times in my career and produced films which I’m deeply proud of – where police officers, professionals have all cooperated in order to tell a story which would not have seen the light of day otherwise.
Last year, I tried to get permissions in place to tell the story of the lives of a small number of dysfunctional families in Swindon and the massive investment that was being made to help them. The police were all for it – given that the then head of Swindon police knew I would honour my promise to protect those who needed protecting. But social services said no – and that was the end.
paedophiles are closer than you think....
So when told last week by someone from social services (who does a wonderful job each day I’m sure) that it’s the media getting it wrong, sending out the wrong message – I did feel a little smug in pointing out that actually her profession was part of the very problem she was complaining about.
I’ve just finished reading Sharon Wright’s book Mother of Invention. I wanted to read it after hearing Sharon speak at a networking event in Swindon.
A book worth reading for those in business
Sharon wrote the book in four weeks detailing her experience of being part of the BBC series Dragon’s Den, her subsequent falling-out with then Dragon James Caan and the story of her product Magnamole. What is amazing about this book is that no publisher would touch it due to its content. So Sharon did it herself.
One thing which comes across loud and clear is that here is a woman who will let nothing stand in her way.
That has brought her great success but that success has come at some cost. Being passionate and committed in everything she does, it hits her hard when someone lets her down, especially someone that she has trusted.
If you read this book, don’t expect it to be a great work of art, or a literary marvel – you’ll be disappointed.
This is a gritty honest, down-to-earth description of a journey through business. It is a scattergun outpouring of many thoughts, feelings, trials, high points and low points.
There’s plenty of business advice which I found very useful and I took comfort from the fact that when I as a business woman feel I’ve been let down or have been stitched up by someone – my subsequent self-analysis and loss of confidence isn’t unusual.
As for James Caan, well, what struck me the most about this story (and I do have to be careful what I say) is the fact that a Dragon is apparently allowed to offer a successful entrepreneur a ‘loan’ and then allegedly try to charge ‘service fees’ – none of which is covered on the programme.
The BBC , the book claims, insists that when a business person successfully receives funds from a Dragon, the agreement subsequently drawn up has nothing to do with the Beeb.
Although I understand that proviso – I feel disappointed as a viewer that a Dragon can apparently offer a loan to someone when the impression on the show (at least all the shows that I’ve watched) is that Dragons offer investment, infrastructure, support and guidance. Money on which they might make a profit over time – but not a loan.
As a business person, I understand that some deals struck on air, might not make it in the real world.
There are all sorts of reasons for that. Checks might show that the entrepreneur who ‘secured’ funding has not got the necessary credentials.
But Sharon clearly did not fall into that category – her product has stood the test of time.
Any business person should read this experience and appreciate the passion that went into this book. It’s a good lesson in what to do – and what not to do – in establishing yourself in business.
MOTORHOME DILEMMA – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
THE FOLLOWING STORY IS TRUE…
Dilemma - motorhome or no motorhome? (thanks for pic humblebee)
You are a journalist working on a national television show which often deals with consumer issues.
You speak to a police officer who’s having problems with a company which supplies motorhomes. He’s paid out more than £40,000 on a wonderful vehicle but it turns out to be a complete lemon. The money took his life savings – a silver wedding anniversary present for him and his wife. It was a dream purchase.
It leaks, it’s mouldy, it’s not fit for purpose and he doesn’t want it in this state. But the company refuses to resolve the issue, insisting that repeated repairs are the answer.
He’s at the end of his tether, it’s causing arguments with his wife and he just wants his money back or a brand new vehicle. The company won’t budge – court action looms.
As a last resort, he contacts you – a journalist.
You listen, ask him to send in copies of paperwork and photographs to verify his story. It all checks out.
But you know from experience that chasing this could take weeks of writing, fending off lawyers, talking to lawyers, and that’s before you’ve filmed a shot. All of that takes money and time.
So you want a firm commitment that if you take up this case – he’ll agree to be interviewed and filmed.
He says to you ‘I’m my own man, no one will force me to do anything’.
You proceed and take up the case. Letters, e-mails fly around. Many talks take place with the retailer of the motorhome. It tries to fob you off with talk of it being the manufacturer’s problem. But you know that under the Sale of Goods Act, the responsibility lies with the retailer.
Eventually, some weeks later, the company contacts you to say the matter is resolved, they’ve backed down. But you need to contact the police officer, your interviewee. You know that this is a situation that would not have come about had it not been for your intervention.
But you feel that there’s something to this deal that you won’t like – what could it be?
The police officer doesn’t contact you. You leave several messages but none are returned. Eventually, you catch him by surprise and he’s forced to talk to you. He confirms what you suspect – he’s been told he’ll get his new motorhome if he calls you off and refuses to cooperate.
So what happens next?
Consider this – what would you do if you were that journalist? what about that police officer? What about that motorhome company? How would you try to deal with this dilemma? Do let me know…..if I get enough comments – I’ll let you know what actually happened next week!