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March, 2012

Titanic – what does the story mean to you? Review my thoughts….

Titanic!

No not the film – I couldn’t bear to watch it again – no, for me, it’s the real story which is captivating me as the 100th anniversary of  the sinking looms.

Through this wonderful job that I do, I’ve recently spoken to a man who’s an authority on Titanic who works at his family’s auction house in Wiltshire. To my surprise, this auction house is now the world’s (yes the world’s) most respected place to sell artefacts and memorabilia related to that ill-fated vessel. And this weekend is one of the auctions of Titanic stuff. (Henry Aldridge & Sons, Devizes)

I’m mentioning this because the sale couldn’t be more timely for me – as Saturday is my birthday and it seems a fabulous thing  to do on one’s birthday. After all, I am going to be 41 again, and again, and again…..

Why am I going? Am I going to buy anything? Am I loaded? Hardly.

The top items could sell for between £50,000 and £90,000 – that’s a little too rich for me. I’m sure the auctioneer almost spluttered over his coffee when I asked what he had for around the £100 mark. Memorabilia around the James Cameron film, I was told. So, I’ll settle for observing.

How much would you pay for a set of keys?...

I would love to see just who is there with £50k in their back pocket. Though I suspect that person or persons will be on the telephone or online. However, I have been to auctions where people do stump up loads and love to talk about it. Like the man sat next to me a few years ago at another auction house who bought a Princess Diana letter for £20k. When I asked him why, he said to put into a safe deposit box and wait for it to make money! Would that I had a spare £20k for such a purpose! I often wonder if he’s sold it on yet.

It seems incredible though that a First Class luncheon menu for April 14 1912 for Titanic could fetch a price of at least £90,000 or a set of keys used by the lamplighters has a price tag of £50,000. In the case of the latter, that’s a tool used by a working class man to carry out a working class job. On a ship which really epitomised the class system of the time. Not that that was any guarantee of survival of course. The richest man in the world at the time went down with the ship, along with the hundreds of second and third class passengers.

What is it about Titanic that so captivates us even now? Is it because it was a seemingly jinxed ship? I was told only this week that it was one of the only ships ever to not have been blessed by a monarch – I don’t know if that’s true. I think it’s the fact that we could all put ourselves in the shoes of those on board, especially those who were going to start a new life in the USA on the biggest liner ever built at the time. It’s a tragic romance along the lines of Glenn Miller.

But like the many romanticised tragedies, we know in our hearts it would have been the most appalling, terrible, horrific event to live through, witness and experience – all, unlike the film, in the dark. How many survivors were permanently scarred by it? How many suffered what we’d now call post traumatic stress disorder?

I love history and I’m genuinely interested in the lives and stories of those on board – and for a small amount of time, I really will be able to touch something that came from, or was related to that fateful ship – and I’ll wonder where those expensive items will end up……

 

 

The Budget – what do journalists think?

It’s Budget Day – a day when some journalists groan and yawn and others get all flustered with excitement.

If you are producing a programme, especially a debate about the Budget or an impending Budget, the hardest job is to find participants. And that should ring all sorts of bells for anyone in business. It’s a wonderful time to set yourself up as a commentator on a topical issue – if you’ve got the courage.

Today, I’ve only got to look at my Twitter feed to see who’s been commentating both locally and nationally. Have a look at your own Twitter feed and you’ll see. I’ve got MPs all saying what you would expect according to their political allegiances, individuals like Martin Lewis, voluntary sector groups like the CAB, campaigning groups like Gransnet, other journalists etc.

If you think you’ve not got the courage to contact your local media outlets eg. newspapers, television or radio and offer to be a commentator for your sector , then engage on Twitter or Facebook because then you’ll get into conversations with interesting people who may be interested in you in the future. Remember, whatever someone’s perspective, they are still human beings, often with families, or savings, or expenses, or debts and the Budget affects them as personally as you. Today is a perfect opportunity for some PR on a day when people want to talk. At the time of writing Granny Tax was trending on Twitter. And if that’s not enough, it’s a day when you can be ‘topical’ and relevant. Look at who’s talking and follow those people or groups who interest you – some will follow you back. Make the Budget work for you, even if it doesn’t work for you (you know what I mean).

Enough of the rant, this wasn’t at all what I wanted to blog about really. But I’ll save that for later – (another moan about the absurdities of our current health provision in Swindon.)

 

Better off? Or worried about extra costs?

What does the budget mean to me – as a working mum with three kids and a husband who is, luckily, working? Well, I won’t have to pay tax until I’ve earned a bit more, I don’t earn over £150,000 a year so the cut in top rate of tax will not affect me in fact barely anyone that I know. I’m not a pensioner but my mum and parents-in-law are – so I’m worried for them as they live on a very fixed income. It’s possible that we might keep child benefit which is great. I had accepted we would lose it but felt that we’d have to deal with that, but I did feel cross that some families with a greater household income would keep it. If that anomaly has been overcome, then for me child benefit should be reserved for those in most need.

My concerns relate to the more vulnerable in our society. People who are disabled, by physical or mental issues, those who have chronic illness, those who are carers, and so on. Also I’m not clear on how the Budget is going to stimulate economic growth – I don’t mind being put right, being contradicted, being corrected. But I just don’t buy the argument that those who earn what to me is mega money – will not fleece the system if the tax rate is lowered. They’ll do it any way if they can. Wouldn’t you?

Share your views? Go on…..

Filming means going that extra mile – high!

This week we’ve been filming with Wiltshire Fire Brigade looking at the valuable, but often unseen work, done by the fire safety specialists.

A team within the fire brigade works day in day out, trying to prevent fires and accidents. They go into schools, into colleges, into homes and can  go into businesses, organisations to talk about safety on the road, in the home, on boats…the list goes on. The skills and the practical hints and tips they can give are worth listening to…How many of us think about what these officers, both male and female, can offer in terms of training? Debbie, who goes into primary schools, to speak to children about fire safety was awesome. Anyone who can not only hold, but fascinate,  a class of seven-year-olds for more than an hour deserves huge respect.

Today I learned what to do if my clothes caught on fire, what to do to check if a fire is behind a door, how to get out of a house safely in a fire. I’d already had a fire officer look around a house and offer advice about smoke alarms, safe practice in the kitchen, planning escape routes, where keys should be left….I could go on. But now I know what to do with my body if that very rare house fire occurs.

As part of my research, I’ve also found out that Wiltshire Fire Brigade works closely with the British Red Cross which provides 24-hour support for people caught up in the trauma of a house fire or flood. The fire officers will call out the BRC team and they will attend night or day – and all of them are volunteers. I’m going to blog more on this later so watch this space.

Our grand vision for the fire safety fiming, was to do a shot of the team and all of the vehicles at their disposal. This meant that we had five fire engines, a four-wheel drive car, a little white van, a British Cross support vehicle, a BMW complete with blue lights and a boat. We allowed two hours to get this one shot right and to arrange the vehicles in an arc. It was great fun.

 

Vehicles getting into position with my thumb at top of frame!...

But here are a few tips I’d like to share with you when doing a ‘key shot’ for any filming:

Whatever time you’ve planned to arrange the shot – double it.

A good cameraman will look for the most inaccessible shot and go for it – be prepared to follow.

Don’t go to the top of a very high tower on a cold, foggy March morning without gloves or without having visited the loo.

Take into account the last time you climbed a very high tower – in your 20s it’s easy, in your 40s, it’s a lot scarier.

Taking lots of heavy kit up a very high tower is not easy – bring along an extra pair of hands.

Swindon's magic roundabout from top of high tower!

Coming down wobbly ladders is a lot more terrifying than going up – especially when your hands are so cold, you are not sure if you’ve got fingers any more.

From these few tips, you can probably guess that we got some of these things completely right and others, while not quite so right. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the shots we captured are wonderful. However, my own personal shots from the iPhone were a bit ropey – probably due to numb fingers, or that’s my excuse.

All in all, today showed the joy of a portfolio career, you just never know what you are going to do, who you are going to meet or what the camera is going to show you…

 

Disabled? In receipt of benefits? Need social care?

This is a different sort of blog for me – it’s my journalist head trying to get at the truth of the matter, so this will be particularly relevant to you if you are disabled, in receipt of benefits or in need of social care.

Two important pieces of legislation are happening as we speak – The Health & Social Care Act and also the Welfare Reform Act 2012. These two laws have the potential to make significant change to how we provide health and social care and how we provide financial support to many groups in the country.

I’ve not got any particular political axe to grind – but I’m interested to know what people’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, worries or concerns are around these laws. I’m not at all sure that people know what is proposed in clear detail. For example, single parents will be encouraged strongly to work once their youngest child reaches five – at the moment it’s 16. Is that good or is that bad? It’s felt that too many people are claiming Disabled Living Allowance and there is an aim to cut that cost. So the DLA is to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. What does that mean in terms of assessment of need? Who will carry out the assessments and when?

Will changes to social and health care affect vulnerable groups – for good or ill? eg. dementia sufferers and/or their carers or families?

Another thing which interests me is the idea of an organisation called Monitor overseeing or looking at the health service – what’s that all about? Is this a private company scrutinising a public service? Is that a good or bad thing?

 

Are there any thorny questions around these laws?

Are there any groups out there who are actively campaigning? Or is the public feeling that there are too many scroungers getting an easy life by not working and claiming everything under the sun? I’m skeptical that that is the case but I could be wrong?

Please let me know your thoughts and feelings? Do comment. Or send personal message which I can keep private (though please clearly state if you want that to be the case).

 

Review the work of a working class poet – The Hammerman and PR.

I don’t think people often think of Swindon as being a hub of the arts – yet it most certainly is – and in one small way I can prove it.

Yesterday, on BBC West‘s Inside Out programme, a film I’d made with colleague and friend Graham Carter about an almost forgotten poet and author, Alfred Williams, was aired. It was the result of work dating back to autumn last year when we decided to attempt to get a commission about this man’s work. He was a working-class writer who achieved a degree of national recognition in his life-time but who is barely remembered by the majority of people in Wiltshire and beyond. Yet, his most famous book Life in a Railway Factory, is a gem for glimpsing life in a Victorian factory.

Brave cast members of The Hammerman wait for us to get on with it on Uffington White Horse

When I saw it aired, if only in our region, it was thrilling and yet sad in some ways. Sad because that project is now over and secondly because there’s so much more we could do on him and his travel writing! What an interesting man he was. Born just outside the town in South Marston he went into the railway factory – the Great Western Railway works – to earn a better wage as Swindon boomed. But it was a drudge of a life, six days a week, 12-hour shifts in a hot, noisy, unforgiving environment. Even today, we are reaping the consequences of not caring enough for our men who worked in the railways – with asbestos-related deaths. But would we have made the same choices as Alfred?

Once he’d walked the four miles to work, done a 12-hour shift, walked home, said hello to his wife, he would sit down and write, delighting in the world around him. He was a master observer of his community, its characters, its quirkiness and its beauty. He recorded his travels around local villages – probably done on his one day off each week (I’m sure his wife didn’t get much of a look-in).

We re-created a very small part of his journey in 1912, which was recorded  in one of his books, Villages of the White Horse, and yes, it can still be bought on Amazon.

What surprised me is the local media interest in the film – so if an lesson can be learned in terms of PR, it’s that you can never tell when something will generate interest.

It could have been a slow news day, considered light relief from heavier news, or it could have been a combination of those facts plus the one really important point – LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Apathy is such a major factor when it comes to getting your good news out there. Never think that what you are doing isn’t of interest – make the effort. Sometimes it will fall on deaf ears, but at other times it will lead to surprising results.

When BBC Wiltshire asked me to go up for a short interview to talk about the film, I jumped at the chance and re-arranged my plans to do so. It only took ten minutes but those were minutes well spent. Graham had been up earlier in the day so there were at least two radio interviews in the county yesterday about this poet. That was on top of a strong page lead in the local Swindon Advertiser as well as social media snippets all day.

Fitting the bike cam - ignore my rather lovely pink wellies.....

The publicity, by association,  also advertised a musical, The Hammerman, about Alfred and his life which is being staged in the town later this month and yes I’ll be going. We interviewed the composer John Cullimore in the film along with other contributors.

Making this film has been an absolute pleasure and I’m now ordering other Alfred Williams’ books for my birthday so I can learn a bit more about this town, and its industrial and rural heritage.

For more details about Alfred Williams, try www.alfredwilliams.org. uk and if you want to see how interested my children were in my BBC Wiltshire radio interview, here’s the link –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXozWZq4sZU

 

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