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February, 2012

Working mums – where’s the glamour?

When people find out that you work in the media, they seem to conjure up this image of glamour in your life.

That used to be true on some days before I had children, especially if there was a beauty launch or a wine and dine contacts event. Now I’m a ‘mum in media’ all that’s changed.

We been taking on new clients these last few months and have more potential leads to follow up. Things are looking very positive for the company and it’s encouraging that there are openings out there in this difficult economic climate.

However, not all the family see it like that.

Never mind the importance of your client or a looming deadline. What matters to ‘the little people’ is whether you’ve met their agenda. In a week when two ballet exams, a birthday party, extra dance practice and World Book Day feature, there’s little downtime for this mum.

Schools are big on dressing up and theme days and all three of my children enjoy nothing more. One of the children is biting his nails because his outfit we ordered through Amazon (to save time) hasn’t arrived yet. Another has been busy customising her wardrobe and ripping tights to get the right effect. And at least she’s doing it herself. I’ve just spent an hour plaiting my eldest’s slightly damp hair in preparation for creating the big frizz effect she wants for her World Book Day character.

Just when I thought I’d slotted in every extra practice and activity, along comes an impromptu school Bingo evening too. And, of course, my boy is desperate to go. Did he say it loud enough? No, “DESPERATE!” shouts he. It’s the best thing he’s heard about this year – he must go! That’s Friday evening written off.

There’s a sleepover on Saturday night too, with a bunch of ten year olds. To all of you uninitiated in the ways of these things, a sleepover is the opposite of what it sounds like. There is very little sleep to be had by the entire household and everyone wanders around the next day looking like they’ve got a severe hangover – even if it’s only from eating too many sweets during the essential midnight feast.

When I bought my smart phone last year I had the sensation of being very grown up, at the leading edge of the market. I pictured myself flashing it around, looking sophisticated and modern. Well, the reality of my life has sunk in. My very up-to-date phone has become essential, but not just to keep abridge of contacts and business appointments. It’s vital for masterminding the after school activities for each child. Now I’ve got it, I rely on it to schedule my life. I wonder how I ever managed with a mere five-person calendar.

So, working mother in media, good. A life full of glamour and excitement? Well, Bingo’s beckoning with my boy…

 

Childcare costs preventing you from working? What’s the story?

BBC’s Panorama ran a programme about the cost of childcare in the UK for working parents. It’s a hot potato but nothing new for a parent like me who has always worked since having my first child over 12 years ago.

Inevitably it brought out those who think parents should stay at home, look after their children and take a trip back to the 1970s in their home life – where do these people come from? 

I personally have no problem at all with mums or dads who want, and can afford, to stay at home and look after the children. All I can say is that for me, it just wasn’t an option. There are two reasons for this – one, I need to contribute and work at least part-time, the  other is that if I was a stay-at-home mum I would go stir crazy.

When I had my last child almost five years ago I had a year off work – and by the end of that time I was ill with boredom and monotony.  Some parents love the stay-at-home life, some don’t and I just don’t. Even my older children noticed how grumpy and down I had become – I need to do something which affirms me as an independent, professional person as well as a mum, step-mum and wife. I love all of my roles and I need all of my roles. If that makes me selfish so be it.

Having made such a decision, is it right for me to moan about childcare costs? Probably not, I guess.

By working, my children have more opportunities to do things....

I consider myself very lucky to have had a wonderful childminder for 12 years, who is a friend and a third parent to all of my children. It’s not cheap, especially in school holidays, coming in at round £60 a day.

I remember when I had two pre-school children at the minder’s – it made little financial sense to work at all. After fees plus travel, I was making about £10 a day. But my mental health was extremely good, I felt better in myself and I knew it was a medium term cost until the oldest started school.

However, I had a reasonably paid staff job with benefits at the time. I’m now self-employed and my income is not set in stone – but I’ve still made the decision three years ago to keep on my childminder for three days a week at least. I did not want to use redundancy as a reason not to work – I’ve not regretted this decision.

I recognise however that for people who work in lower paid professions eg. retail, a decision like this is much harder. I have a friend who is a single parent working for a national retail company – she earns about £850 a month. She has no choice but to pay for childcare as she’s the breadwinner in the family. But the childcare is a huge drain. She would actually be better off staying at home and living on benefits – I have to question whether that our society should ever allow that to be the situation.

My friend doesn’t want to stay at home. She has an eye to the future. In a few years’ time, her youngest child will be an adult and she’s anxious to have her foot in the workplace. She doesn’t want to be 50, with no experience and trying to find work then to make ends meet.

And where are children in this? My children are happy, that’s where they are. They have another adult they can talk to, confide in and trust. They have a range of friends of different ages and backgrounds. They are well socialised and have had no problem in fitting in at school because they’ve made friends from a very early age. They understand fully the concept of different homes, different adults, different rules.

I think back to my own childhood. My mum did not work, my dad wouldn’t allow it. Her day was structured around housework, food and children. She spent a good part of 20 years being bored. Rows at home were always around money. I didn’t go to toddler groups, play groups or anything like that. My parents had no car and little money so apart from an annual caravan holiday for a week, we went nowhere beyond our street and nearby countryside.

I knew much love and happiness as a child, don’t get me wrong. I always knew I was loved and cherished and for that I’m eternally grateful. But I also knew boredom, knew disappointment when I couldn’t do things through a complete lack of cash. These things do have an effect and help inform future choices. I  knew from the age of 18 that I would work and offer my children more opportunity. I hate not contributing to the family pot.

Childcare costs are an issue – but for many women, it’s not just about the money. 

Adoption – what was your experience? Good? Bad?

I can now write about the latest film I’ve produced for ITV Wales looking at adoption and special guardianship – called Forever Families.

Adoption is something you tend not to think about if you are a secure family unit – but the truth is that there are so many children out there who need help. But adoption has changed dramatically over the years and now we are in a situation where there are not enough people coming forward to adopt children. Note the use of that word. Adoption is rarely about babies now. It’s more likely to be about children and often siblings.

Why? Well, it seems from my research that it’s due to the fact that social services departments and the court system will give birth parents every possible chance to sort out their lives should their children be taken into care. This means that many children can be with foster carers for quite a long time before a final decision is made about their futures ie. should they be adopted? It’s a matter of debate about whether or not that’s a good thing.

Adoption - it ain't what it used to be.....

One reason, it’s suggested, for adoption not being as popular is the fact that the process takes a long time. A very, very long time. Adoptive parents have to go through a long assessment process, and if anything bad happens in their lives during that assessment period that can mean further delays. The families I interviewed both felt that delays were more about inefficiency and possible lack of resources, than about the child‘s welfare. However, one has only to think of Baby P to know that being careful can save lives.

I’d be really interested to hear any of your stories about adoption. Were you adopted? How has it affected your life? Have you tried to adopt and lost heart in the process? The Welsh Government is holding an inquiry into this issue and will be considering how to change the system by the end of 2012. It could lead the way when it comes to change….watch this space, I feel a follow-up coming  on…..

 

 

A mum’s review of the health service in her town – what’s your story?

I’ve been a bit slack on the blog front recently  – one of the reasons being that I’ve not been well, and having three children, we’ve passed it around. A severe throat infection that is.

Having had a few weeks of nasty illness in Swindon, I’ve had several encounters with the health service, particularly the out-of-hours service, and it pains me to say – it’s not great.

What’s happening to our NHS in Swindon? 

When my first two girls were born, only two years apart, I never worried if they needed to see a doctor out of hours. We had an excellent service.

You would call, make an appointment, head off to a surgery on an industrial estate, never wait more than half an hour and be sorted. In fact it worked so well, that it was easier to see a doctor than during regular hours.

Now I find it’s all a hideous, frustrating mess.

I keep asking myself why? Why do we seem to have more complication than ever? It’s as if we, the patients, are being kept at arms length unless our illness is between 9 and 5. And even then you feel like an irritant rather than a patient in need of help.

First I was very poorly and asked for a GP to visit me. I knew it was’t an ambulance job, but the last time I felt that ill was about 20 years ago.

I have lived in Swindon since 1997 and have never asked a GP to visit – the doctor was so rude, saying he served 200,000 patients in the area and wasn’t coming out for a sore throat. My husband tried to explain that I had pains across my back, felt sick but he refused. Hubby explained I was too ill to sit for hours in a waiting room, doctor refused. When I grew up in the 1970s, you only had to tell your GP you were ill and he came. No quibble, no question. My, how things have changed.

I struggled on for another night and called again the next morning – Saturday – and I did go up to the out-of-hours centre (but a centre which is now only for certain conditions deemed to be serious but not too serious, there’s a list on door). Ironically the lovely nurse who saw me was very worried and I was admitted to A&E, then overnight for tests. I was also given antibiotics, and am now waiting for two follow-up outpatient appointments. The pains in my back worried the medical staff – but clearly not the emergency doctor the night before.

I must stress that once within A&E everyone was supportive. It’s just why should I have to go through all of that to get treated. The original GP must have had access to my records, so would know that I’m not the sort of person to call someone out for a stubbed toe.

A week later, late Sunday night I knew I had to take my daughter to the emergency GP’s. She was showing the same symptoms. This time I was told that a GP would call me back within the hour. I called back an hour later, was told I would get a call, but they were very busy. I did finally get a call but was told to go up an hour later. When I arrived they weren’t very busy, just steady. At worst during my three and a half hour visit, there were eight patients. But no nurses and one doctor. And of course a receptionist.

One patient was a baby, aged about ten months, clearly with a high temperature, sweaty and hot. That family waited four hours, while others came and went in a much shorter time. Why they didn’t just march round to A&E around the corner, I’ll never know. When we saw the GP he was very kind, prescribed medicine, apologised saying two nurses had gone home, short staffed. SO NOT BUSY, JUST SHORT OF PEOPLE.

The following day, my hubby had same symptoms and no voice. Called surgery this time. Thought I’d make an emergency appointment that day – was told that a nurse would call me back. WHAT IS THIS ‘SOMEONE WILL CALL YOU BACK’ RUBBISH? Why can’t you just make an appointment?

I explained that my husband couldn’t talk but was capable of driving to the surgery if he could have an appointment. No, someone would have to take the telephone call. Could I wait half an hour? I had to go to work, I explained. Anyone would have thought I’d said I was going to commit burglary. Going to work? I should be clearly available at their convenience. Eventually a nurse did phone, and within 10 seconds offered an appointment later that morning.

What’s happened to our service in Swindon that we now have this mess? There’s no customer service, little apology, it feels as if we are expected to be grateful for a long-winded process? Where are we when a sick baby is held by its mother in front of a receptionist for four hours without being seen?

What's the score with Swindon's out-of-hours GP services?

Should our press be free – or not? Review my thoughts…

No more restrictions on our Press thanks....

This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.

It’s part of a study by a university which is questioning journalists across Europe about their views on the issue of regulation of the Press.

Those of us who work in television a lot, often try to talk about the Press as though somehow we are a separate entity. I’ve never believed this. Coming into the industry through newspapers and still writing today – I believe we are all one industry and we should defend, support and, when necessary, chastise each other when things go wrong.

This phone-hacking issue, the Levenson inquiry, centres largely around the national newspapers. Our national newspapers are more powerful than most people realise. Not because us ordinary Joes care about it – but because our law-makers do.

Having worked alongside politicians for many years, I can promise you that those who are ambitious, want to climb the political ladder, really, really care about what the newspapers say. I have even heard politicians make judgements based upon ‘what the Daily Mail would say about it’.

As a regional journalist for most of my career, I’ve always been astonished by this.

 

And many celebrities care too. The amount of times I’ve heard people turn down interviews with the local media, because ‘it’s not national’, ‘it’s a waste of time’ – an argument that has never had much validity and even less now with the internet. When a parish magazine advertising local jumble sales can be found on the internet, the notion of local press almost becomes obsolete…

However, I will absolutely defend the rights of the Press as a whole – it’s a mark of our democracy that our Press is free.

I could not support any further legislation restricting Press freedom. This does not mean I condone phone-hacking – I don’t. I’ve never done it, never been asked to do it, never asked anybody else to do it for me. It’s illegal and the law is already in place to deal with it. That law should be used.

There’s another reason I defend the Press. The written media has to obey the law of the land but the broadcast media also has to obey the Ofcom code which is very strict. Television has to obey much tighter guidelines than newspapers. I well remember coming into television and being amazed about the hoops that had to be jumped through.

One example is secretly recording a telephone call – note, not phone-hacking. In television, you have to seek legal permission to actually record a call. And it can’t be because you ‘think’ something will be revealed. Oh no, you have to be very,very sure you will get something out of it. If you get permission, then you have to then get further permission to use that material. A lawyer has to be satisfied that the material ‘adds further value or something new’ to a programme which could not have been obtained in any other way. So recording a telephone conversation is no guarantee that it will be used at all.

It also is worth remembering that most journalists are not into underhand means to get information. We’re not interested in people’s private lives unless they are hypocrites or it somehow impacts on a public role. We don’t offer sums of  money to people for information (although people often ask for money) and we don’t hack into people’s phones. Yet we still find things out, reveal things, hold things up for scrutiny, regardless of whether or not that makes us popular.

Let’s keep our free Press, we’ll regret it if we don’t….

 

When a bad day at the office turns into bad PR

Next time punch a cashion

I have just seen a most fabulous example of bad PR on a website. It’s so bad I thought I’d share it with you as it illustrates how important it is for a company to regularly check their internet profile. I’m talking about more than just indiscrete photos on Facebook here.

I was browsing this morning on the Birds on the Blog site, checking how my latest gardening post was going when I stumbled across this. An internet Bingo company had approached Sarah the site owner and suggested that they would be a good match for advertising. Now, anyone who has ever looked at this blog would know immediately that a site aimed at ‘business women of opinion’ is unlikely to have that many bingo fans. Sarah politely declined the offer and was sent the following email in return.

“We are of the opinion that women thick enough to read your mundane blog posts would surely love bingo. Your dimwit readership and our exciting bingo games would be a perfect match. Would you reconsider?”

Bitchy or what? The company is called Overture Interactive and their saleswoman, Ewelina, has done them no favours. She’s insulted not only the site but her own product users too.

As we go through our working and personal lives we all get frustrated when things don’t go our way. It’s often tempting, and sometimes happens, that a jokey reply is drafted as a response. But only an idiot would send it.

I would imagine Ewelina’s job is one where she experiences frequent declines for her advertising packages as it’s a similar approach to cold calling – it just happens to be on the internet.

And that’s the issue. While her response to being turned down might have made her feel better when she sent it, how’s she going to react when her boss realises that her comments have gone global? Things have changed in the way companies now operate and how they attempt to reach their clients. Small mistakes can’t be hidden as easily in-house as once an errant slip up in the marketing department might have been.

If she thought yesterday was a bad day at the office, I’ve a feeling that today will be a whole lot worse.

Internet marketing does work – for good or bad. Just make sure that you leave the correct impression.

 

We’d love to know of any other really bad examples of internet marketing as they always make for interesting reading. If you have any send them into us and we’ll highlight them.

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