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September, 2011

Bristol’s gorillas are up for sale? Want one?

Gorillas with style......

In the south west tonight there’s a little fundraising event going on in Bristol –  gorillas are being auctioned off.

Price tag – up to £10,000 each. 

What? I hear you exclaim.

Yes, this is one of several very successful ‘stunts’ that this area has seen over the last few years.
This involves an organisation in need of money, building up the tension by commissioning the creation of colourful models of animals.

These are dotted around the relevant area for quite a long time and then auctioned off to local businesses or individuals to raise money.

Tonight it’s all about gorillas, to raise funds for Bristol Zoo Gardens – a marvellous organisation for us living in the region.

These models have been dotted around for several months.
Watching the news tonight, the target of raising £100,000 by auctioning them off has been far exceeded.

The former swimmer Sharron Davies has bought a wonderful purple gorilla gilded with a silver leaf design. Where will she put it? I’d love to know.

Sounds mad – but I love it.

I recognise that the gorillas, all identical in size but all colourfully different, are not new.

We’ve already had pigs and lions in Bath.

And I’m sure someone somewhere has done the same with horses. But I think they are absolutely wonderful.
In Bristol, the gorillas popped up all around the city and captivated people, especially children.
They were not placed always in obvious places, though some were outside of particular business – perhaps those which sponsored their creation.
I regularly saw the dotty one outside the BBC signed by the DIY SOS team, one with colourful handprints outside Waitrose and a beautiful one in green pyjamas outside a city hotel.

Without fail, every time I saw these creatures at random times of day, photographs were being taken. It’s a gem for social media pr as well as traditional stuff.

They just brightened up the day when wandering round the city.

Even last week when attending an auction house near Bath, I walked into reception and there was a lion from a similar campaign. It was wonderful to see, you just have to touch it, feel it and enjoy it.
The PR value of these objects – which from a practical point of view could be seen as completely useless – has been powerful for the Bristol locality.
And for Bristol Zoo it may be a happy coincidence that one of their gorillas, Salome, gave birth to a new baby just this week. So gorillas are good, strong, local news this week.
The model gorillas will be a talking point for years to come for any business which snaps them up.

At the same time a local facility which carries out research into conservation of wildlife will now be at least £300,000 richer. Some people paid £10,000 for their gorillas.

My only wish – that I could afford to buy one too!!

To Swansea from Swindon – remembering the miners…

When thinking of what to write about today, I glanced at a picture in my kitchen that I absolutely cherish.

I realised that at this time, the subject matter is topical and relevant. It gave me time to pause and reflect.

It’s one of those pictures that you either love or hate – it’s not pretty, it’s gritty.

 

It shows a row of miners, underground, sharing a break together.

 

The miners are from South Wales and the artist is Valerie Ganz who specialises in this kind of art. Do look her up.
I’m no art critic but I love this picture because it roots me in my past, my father, grandfathers and great grandfathers were all miners in the Somerset coalfield.

In fact, one of the miners even looks like my grandad so it warms my soul to look at the picture.
So it won’t surprise you to know that my heart fell as the story of the tragedy at the Gleision Colliery in the Swansea area unfolded a few weeks ago.

My thoughts go out to the families of those killed – Charles Breslin, David Powell, Phillip Hill and Garry Jenkins.

And the three men who survived – I’m thinking of them too.

I say that for a good reason.

This is an industry, a job, a career which requires great endurance, great courage and generates huge camaraderie and love, in spite of the risks.

My grandad, who served as a miner for 50 years in the Somerset coalfield, would often cry over Christmas dinner for his mates that were killed in the mines.

It was, and is, an industry which miners loved but which was brutal.

I know that during his long career, my grandad saw his best mate killed beside him when a rock fell on his head, and once he was caught in a rockfall which trapped five fellow miners. He was one of the first to go back down to rescue them – but it was too late. They all died. Even now the Braysdown Pit accident is recorded on gravestones in north east Somerset.

It’s when you see the tragedy recalled in the eyes of someone close to it, someone who was affected, that the enormity of the event comes home to you.

It’s not just an etching on a mossy gravestone, or a dispassionate write-up in an old newspaper article. It’s about real people, real families, terrible pain.

In the coming weeks and months, these families will live through funerals, inquests, hearings, media attention and nothing can spare them.

In a sense, nothing should spare them. Everyone wants answers, wants to know that their loved one mattered, but it’s just the pain that all of those things carry with them that’s hard to face. It’s a long hard road to walk.

As a child, I remember looking at my grandad (who died at the ripe old age of 88 in his bed) and thinking he was a bit mad to be crying over Christmas dinner.

Now, as an adult, I know better.

He apprecia

Tea break....miners underground in South Wales by Valerie Ganz

ted the gift of family, the gift of time spent and enjoyed together, and he remembered those who were denied that gift.

So to all in Wales and beyond affected by this tragedy – there are some out here who don’t know you – but who have noticed and who care…

Ever made a mistake? Review it!

Make sure that mistake doesn't bite!

What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made? I’d love to know — and what did you do about it?

I recently read in my local newspaper a letter from a new restaurant owner in Swindon about a review written by a journalist. She’s attended his/her restaurant and had a meal.

The letter said that while there were many positive comments, the reviewer was unreasonable in her criticisms. One was that she’d asked for a vodka mixer and no vodka was available – however the journalist should have been satisfied with the 32 types of wine on offer on the extensive wine list.

What? A journalist doing a review is no different to any other customer – and customers can be hard to please. If I want a gin and tonic or a beer – sod the 32 choices of wine – that’s what I want.

The clue is in the world ‘review’ – it’s an experience, it’s about fulfilling expectations. Some may be fulfilled, others may not.

If this happens to you, bleating about it in the letters page and slagging off the journalist is hardly maintaining a strong relationship with your local press – something you need if you are a local restaurant. Also what do you think as a reader? A reader like me? Well, do I want to go to a restaurant where my choice of  beverage is ridiculed? I don’t think so…

So, what should that restauranteur have done?

Taken the positives, learned, maybe invited her back again in six months time…keep the lines of communication open. Turn something negative into something positive – a cliche but true.

 

A review is very powerful and, unless there’s a bug in your food or the chicken is raw, will almost always put bums on seats. Don’t diss it.

 

This is not a journalist’s mistake, it’s an opinion based on experience.

 

So what is a mistake?

 

Consider the following:

Any journalist who claims never to have made a mistake is from another planet.

All human beings make mistakes and if you are banging out 3,000 words a day for a publication – it will happen.

 

However if a journalist makes a mistake the consequences can be huge – the power of the written or spoken word cannot be underestimated.

So if you are talking to a journalist and a mistake is subsequently made what do you do?

 

It’s easy – talk to the journalist about it.

 

Be sure before you do, that the mistake came from them. (Remember that a mistake in a headline or sub-heading might be done by an editor – and the journalist may have not seen it yet. Equally a mistake in a picture caption can also be done by a third party) But the journalist can help put things right.

There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a difficult conversation with a journalist and then finding out that your press release was inaccurate – or your press office/pr consultant was the source of the mistake.

Also remember that journalists are taught that ‘inaccuracy kills’ – there’s no defence if an inaccuracy leads to defamation. So journalists should be open to those kinds of conversations.

Discuss what the mistake was and how you wish it to be rectified.

For example, a simple mistake like a name spelled incorrectly may be embarrassing but it’s not going to be the end of the world. A small correction or repeat of the story (if it’s short) may be sufficient.

A good friend of mine who’s first name is Spencer was captioned in a photograph as Stella – he’s never forgotten it and neither have I – it’s hilarious.

But if a teacher say, at a school, is charged with abusing a pupil and a journalist names the school or the wrong teacher then that’s a serious mistake and much harder to put right. That gets into the realm of defamation and possibly contempt of court.

For something serious such as the latter, seek advice before talking to the journalist so that you know where you can go with it.

However it’s always advisable to give a newspaper, tv, radio or online publication the opportunity to put things right before getting heavy with lawyers’ letters.

Apologies will be given quite prominently in a serious matter, it’s actually quite rare that a media outlet does nothing when a genuine mistake has been made.

 

Tip: always talk to the journalist if she/he has made a mistake. Keep the relationship going by avoiding getting heavy. Expect a rational response in putting right that wrong.

(next week, I’ll tell you about a mistake I made and the consequences)

Appropriate adult – appropriate story? Fred met Janet.

The serial killings of Fred and Rose West was a case that dominated the early part of my career in newspapers.
I didn’t cover the story on a day-to-day basis but I knew several journalists who did – and working down the road in Swindon, it was close enough to be both macabre and fascinating.

Knowing some journalists who covered the case day in and day out, I do know that many details of Fred & Rose West’s perversions were never made public. Many journalists formed a pact not to reveal some of the more awful details. 

I was therefore very interested in the ITV drama Appropriate Adult. I found it quite difficult to watch and difficult to understand the odd relationship between West and Janet Leach. However, having looked a murderer in the eye myself, it can be hard to relate that person to their actions.
Today I’ve listened to the main police officer being critical of the programme and its makers.

 

Janet’s role in the case was grossly exaggerated, they didn’t stick to the facts.

Such a reaction was predictable – but let’s not forget that this was a drama. It was not a documentary or a drama documentary – nor was it billed as such.

 

It was also very specific in that it looked at one very particular aspect of this gruesome and awful case. It was a relationship based in fact – Janet Leach is a real person, she did sit with Fred West during police interviews and she did lie about her involvement with a national newspaper.

 
But should history be harsh on her for that? During the Fred & Rose West trial, many, many people made money out of this case. There were even rumours at the time that T-shirts were even being sold in the street where it happened.

 

Also many journalists paid money to nearby properties in order to erect scaffoldings etc from which to film activity around the home occupied by the murderers.

 
Detectives who worked on the case are, understandingly are very passionate about the role they played.

 

But it remains true that this couple practised their perversions almost in plain sight for many, many years. Was there joined up information around this couple? Who knows? It seems unbelievable that no one at any time raised any concerns about them, about children who were there and then were not…

 
The drama did two things for me which were powerful – it showed the delusion that the murderer Fred West could have hidden behind.

 

I’ve experienced it once myself when I visited a convicted killer in prison. Even after ten years inside he still talked about the offence as if the victim was somehow to blame – her behaviour was such that it brought about a fatal chain of events.

 

The fact that his response to her behaviour was to shoot her dead – he just couldn’t see that that wasn’t a normal response. I felt, sadly, that this man would never be able to see the horror of what he’d done, the pain he’d caused.

 

The dramatisation of Fred West demonstrated that self-delusion – talking about dead victims with love and compassion while ignoring the elephant in the room – the fact that he or his awful wife had killed that victim.

The other powerful thing for me was the representation of Rose West. As the trial progressed with Rose West in real life, I began to see her as a mastermind rather tha

The web spun by Fred & Rose West - prepare for more dramas around this story

n a deluded follower of her husband’s perversions.
There’s another thing that rings true from the drama. People like the two Wests don’t just stop such awful acts – paedophiles don’t suddenly stop and start. I believe, as perhaps Janet Leach does, that there are more victims out there. We will never know the full extent of their actions.
My thoughts go out to the relatives of those individuals – a stain on that family that could leak down through the generations.

9/11 Ten years on – terror attack or not?

Question Time has returned and they are talking about 9/11 – not surprising given this weekend’s tenth anniversary.

But just before that on BBC3 was a programme involving a group of young people being taken around America who were all convinced that the attacks on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and the other attack were all caused by the American Government or some other secret society.

 

Most believed that there was some undercover reason for the attack which was carried out covertly by people within the American Government (or somewhere else) for some greater gain.

 

Greater it seems than the lives of thousands of people. Greater than any amount of lives – as no one could have known how many people could have been killed. Ten thousand could have lost their lives, 20,000, 30,000….

 

A comedian, who I did not recognise, was given the task of trying to challenge their conspiracy theories by taking them to meet those who had knowledge of events and to see if their minds could be changed. Two of the group experienced a real change in their views.

 

I found the programme interesting but rather shallow. There were childish squabbles, tantrums, gnashing of teeth, that inability to listen to anybody else who doesn’t share your view.

 

Liking much of what is put out on BBC3 and BBC4, I was up for watching this programme but I did feel it was a project which was out of step with all of the other programmes about 9/11 at the moment.

 

Watching the contributors throwing eggs onto the ground, or throwing stones into piles of flour to show what could happen when a plane hits the ground at speed and is then swallowed up by the impact, somehow felt all wrong. This is just a personal feeling, it seemed without heart.

The only moment when I saw what 9/11 means to me was when they met a woman who’s son had called her from the plane where passengers overpowered the hi-jackers and through their bravery, saved lives on the ground. A son who was just recognising that he was about to die.

 

Stand in front of a mother who’s received such a call and tell her about your nebulous conspiracy theories. In the face of such dignity, yet so much pain, this group of people appeared pathetic.

What did their theories matter to this woman? Her son is still dead. She is still without him for the rest of her life.

I can’t criticise the way the programme was made in any way. But it seemed to belittle what 9/11 meant.

 

It was a human tragedy and crime carried out in front of our eyes where thousands of people were killed and the effect of those deaths sent out ripples of misery which are still being felt today. It’s not something that’s over and done with – dusted. Just as I can still feel the pain of the Holocaust, so I feel the pain of this awful event. And I was not directly involved.

9/11 – whatever caused it – was a visible example of human misery and terror being carried out across the media. There have been many since – that were less visible.

 

For me, it was something that showed how powerful the media can be – we’ve seen that since with the uprisings in Egypt etc.

It also shows how helpless we are in the face of such terrorist attacks (yes, I do believe it was a terrorist attack)

Ten years after 9/11 - Question Time

The way terrorists behave during an attack make them virtually impossible to stop, so early prevention has to be the key. Otherwise it’s too late, there’s no control.

First day back at school – what’s it like for you? From one Swindon mum.

Today many children went back to school – as a mum of three, I have three of these days to deal with this year as all three children are at different stages.

Today will possibly be the most long-winded and it reminded me of the trauma that many working parents feel when they are trying to do the right things for their children at school – and get to work on time. It’s a daily battle.

Being self-employed I’ve deliberately kept all three days as free as possible and I’ve not regretted it. After years of children at school, I finally found that it’s best to be as free as possible on days like today. It’s brought the stress down to a bearable level.
Last Friday it was first child to secondary school – getting up far too early, stressing about uniform, putting a tie on for the first time and the horror of my daughter in realising that she has to master this every day for the next few years! What a trauma. Then it’s the ‘what if’ period – what if I can’t find my friends? what if I get lost? what if I can’t find the toilets? what if I’ve forgotten my PE kit?

Notice that these ‘what ifs’ are not the same as us parents? Like, ‘what if the work is too hard? or what if my child gets bullied? or what if my child is naughty?’

What I did not have to do was take my child to school – no it’s now an early bus there and back, but that brings it’s own trauma about safety, on the road and on the bus.

Still we got over that day and today it was child number 2.

 

This trip is a move from Yr 4 to Yr 5 of a very laid-back child who is having a new teacher and some new cardigans but everything else is familiar.

 

However, what a parent so easily forgets over the summer is the hurdles one has to deal with in simply getting your child to school.

The traffic is worse and finding a parking space that a) isn’t a daft and unsafe place to park b) isn’t inconsiderate to residents. And then there’s always the risk that residents will simply object to you parking outside their house, even if it’s not unsafe or illegal to do so. I had this the other day (not on a school day) but on a new estate where there were no road markings at all. I was a visitor to the area, there were no yellow lines, no parking signs at all but a resident wrote me a snotty note and put it on my windscreen informing me that I should ‘park round the back or else’. Clearly he or she thought I was psychic and would know by osmosis that there were parking spaces elsewhere.

 

Back to today, my child gave me a quick kiss and disappeared, eager to see her friends and to find her way around a new classroom.

 

I then had to have at least five conversations with other parents about their particular experiences. Some clearly were parents who were short of adult company over the previous six weeks. I had the time, so it was no problem. But when you are working it’s so rude to say ‘that’s great, bye!’. Then I remembered her new cardigans and also the medical form for her asthma medication.

 

On entering the school office, there was a queue of mums waiting to do similar things.

I could see those eager to be away, hopping from one foot to another – knowing how they felt, I was relaxed about letting them jump the queue.

But then the form-filling – is it really necessary to fill out at least two forms saying the same thing? My child has asthma, she can self-administer her medication when she needs it – which is about once a week. She’s proficient at it, she’s learning to carry her inhalers herself at all times – but she’s not allowed to at school. This I know and accept. But there must be a more efficient way of dealing with this. There was one form and then another, both asking the same thing. This exercise took about 20 minutes and then I had to wait for her new cardigans – luckily that took about a minute.

So my youngest child was pretty bored by the time we left school at about 9.30am – goodness knows what it will be like on Friday when he starts for the first time. I’ll be lucky to get a coffee in before I’ve got to pick him up at lunchtime. Oh joy!

First day at school can seem like a long, uphill slog

9/11 the firemen’s story – what it meant to me

I have this need to watch programmes about 9/11 – it was event which left an indelible mark on my psyche and last night was no exception.

On watching the programme, The Firemen’s Story (Channel 4 or 5) and those remarkable pictures I remember where I was when it happened so clearly. Do you? What’s your story? 

 

What were you doing when those pictures went across the world and we knew without doubt that we were watching thousands perish before our eyes?

 

I was filming a light entertainment show in a beautiful house in Somerset owned by a couple who’d decorated it with stuff they’d rescued and recycled.

 

I was heavily pregnant and wearing a long, huge, black dress. It was very hot and I was having a drink downstairs and the tv was on. Just a few months earlier I’d been in the twin towers having a meal with my husband – a lovely weekend away in New York.

 

I called him on the telephone telling him there’d been an accident and to turn on the tv. As we were talking I watched the second plane go into the south tower and I knew then it was no accident.

 

I knew I was looking on helplessly as people died needlessly. It was among the most humbling experiences of my life.

I’ve asked my children to watch some of the programmes as I want them to know what fanaticism can lead to – great pain, great horror, great devastation, and for what? What good came of that act? There were heroes created, but no one wants to be hero because of that act. And there’ve been so many since.

 

What moved me last night was an interview with a widow, ten years on, who described telling her daughter that her daddy wouldn’t be coming home – ever. Her daughter crumpled on to the floor, ‘she looked like I slapped her’ the mum said. She said she’d never forget it.

 

All parents can imagine such a dreadful moment – but recently I had to live through it, even if it was as a close bystander. Believe me, I pray it’s never me in that position.

 

I sat with my beautiful sister as she told her six year old daughter that her daddy, who’d gone to the gym as usual the night before, would never be coming home again. He’d felt ill and had to go to hospital but he was so ill that he’d had to go to heaven. He didn’t want to go but he had no choice.

 

In adult language – he’d collapsed and died at the age of 49. Gone from our lives, just like that.

It’s like hitting a brick wall that’s so big

What would you tell your child?

and so tall that you just have to hit it. It cannot be avoided.

My sister dealt with it with so much love and dignity that I could hardly bear it – she told my lovely niece that we would feel sad for a while but we would all be happy and have lovely times because that’s what Daddy would want.

 

All of this when I knew the dark chasm that life had put before this mum of three. A widow at 40 with three small children.

 

Though the circumstances were vastly different, the effect was the same. A family in total devastation but trying to survive even in the following hours. Trying to ensure that bereaved children still felt there was hope and magic in the world.

To all who lost in 9/11, 7/7 or in any other personal tragedy – I salute you.

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