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You know that hidden antique? It’s time to Flog It!

Today’s blog is somewhat different from many as I’m going to appeal to anyone living in Wiltshire, Bath, Somerset or round about to come along and meet me, in person, at Longleat on Thursday July 18!

Well I’m exaggerating a little – I don’t really think anyone will really come to see me – will they? However they might be willing to come along to take part in an event like no other.

Paul doing his 'thing' in front of camera

Paul doing his ‘thing’ in front of camera

 

The truth is I’ll be so busy, the most I’ll manage is a bit of a wave. But you may want to come along to meet my colleague Paul Martin or one of the experts on the day – Flog It! is coming to Wiltshire. I’m proud to tell you all about it, because this show is a joy to work on and a joy to be take part in.

Flog It! is a daytime BBC show in the antiques and collectibles genre which regularly attracts an audience of two million and is currently on its twelfth series. Paul Martin presents the show and lives in Wiltshire with his family.

Normally I don’t shout about this job which I do from time to time but when it’s on home turf – it’s okay. I’m very, very proud to be a small part of a team which produces this ever popular day-time television show.

The premise of the show is that people bring along up to three  antiques or collectibles which will be valued and might – just might – be selected for filming and then the items are sold at an auction a few weeks later. Contributors will see if the valuations given on the day are realised in the auction house later.

This filming day is known as a valuation day with hundreds and hundreds of people attending and making a day of it. Flog It! is an event – it’s a feat of organisation – involves tens of staff who all have a vital role in making the day run smoothly.

My role on the day is to work with one of the experts who will be valuing items. Experts on the day will be David Fletcher, Mark Stacey and Michael Baggott. I’ll be told in a few weeks who I’m working with. It doesn’t matter because they are all good. Behind the scenes there are also a team of off-screen experts who ensure that everyone who attends gets their items valued.

As for me I’ll be working alongside two camera operators, a sound technician and a researcher. I’ll direct filming with an expert as he meets and greets guests, has a sneak preview of some of their items and then settles down to value things for several hours.

When you experience something like this, you realise that filming is like a jigsaw puzzle, many seemingly disparate things are filmed and they all come together in the edit to make a whole programme. It’s my job to ensure there are as many ‘pieces’ to choose from.

Paul will be around and about doing the same thing but also doing ‘links’ those chunks of ‘speaking to camera’ which moves the programme along on air.

And what about Longleat itself as a venue? Can anyone think of anywhere better. I’ve been to some extremely beautiful locations for Flog It! but I’m immensely proud to be in our lovely county.

So, if you’ve got something old which you think might have some value but you hate it, or you think it just isn’t wanted or doesn’t ‘fit’ any more. Come along and make selling it a real event.

Here are the details:

 

Flog It! will be at Longleat House, Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW on Thursday 18th July between 09:30am and 4pm. The items selected at the valuation day will go under the hammer at Henry Aldridge & Son Auctioneers, Unit 1 Bath Road Business Centre, Bath Road, Devizes, Wiltshire, SN10 1XA on Saturday 10th August.

 

Hope in the midst of horror – the killing of a soldier in Woolwich

A young soldier is attacked and killed in full public view on our streets, seemingly by extremists intent on creating fear and panic among the population at large.

An act of violence and abomination. A  terrible, terrible event for the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. An attack on one of our soldiers, one of the many men and women who are prepared to die to protect our way of life.

Yesterday the news was full of stories about horrible killings in our society. This was one was so shocking because it was so immediate with video clips on the internet and the killers using that medium to spread whatever twisted message they wanted to get across.

Today I’ve heard several negative things which, in my view, play into the hands of all extremists. People calling for death, mobs, marches, violence to a whole group in our society who are as innocent as we are. People suddenly showing support for organisations which shouldn’t be more than an annoying pimple which needs to be popped. These organisations jumping on the horror and claiming it for their own – it’s utterly despicable. What is it that Gandhi said? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Let’s not let anger and fear make us blind to the good things…..

There are pros and cons to seeing a death like this victim’s played out so publicly  – in America, people are used to seeing this type of thing more often. I’m in two minds about this. I heard a man on the radio saying it was disgraceful bringing this into everyone’s living rooms. Is it? Is it disgraceful that we face the horror up front? Those people in that street, that young man didn’t ask for that, did they? They had no choice in it. Can we hide from the risks we may all face?

But this exposure also highlighted other things – small acts of courage and care which happened in the few moments that this horrific event took place. The woman who tried to reason with someone who could not be reasoned with. Did she think or did she act? Her efforts provided, at a minimum, a distraction which could well have prevented another death or serious attack. Could I have done that? Would I have done that? I honestly don’t know.

The person, who even though it was hopeless, held the victim and wept over him – a stranger who cared, who just tried to be there in the most terrible of circumstances and amid carnage. Someone who just saw the young man and reached out. I believe the victim’s family will take a small crumb of comfort from that one act.

I heard comments about wishing the police had shot dead the people responsible. Yesterday, in the immediate aftermath I too had some sympathy for that view. But our police  are professionals. They too, being there and in the midst of that awful situation, may have felt that way. But they, like our soldiers, were professional. We have no idea what the bigger picture is here – is there more intelligence around this incident? Is there information to be gained from the men responsible? Two meetings of COBRA in a 24-hour period suggest something else is going on here that we, the public, are unable to see and may well never know.

We should therefore take heart in all the courageous people around this incident who reacted in split seconds to an unspeakable horror. Many acted with dignity and caring towards complete strangers. Now is the time for the police to do their jobs, and for us to consider the pain of the family involved.

Welcome to the school which has no bullies! (Really?)

Today I felt a flash of anger – as the issue of bullying came up in the news yet again. For us in the west, there’s a very sad news story about a young girl who died from hanging in Somerset.

Her parents have spoken at the inquest of bullying at school, being teased because of her weight, an eating disorder….the poor girl’s experiences now held up for public scrutiny. A terrible, terrible time for her parents. There’s that sense of needing, wanting to blame…but a verdict has yet to be reached, the inquest is still going on.

However, inquests are so important as they can throw up issues which enter the public domain for discussion and debate even if we should bear in mind the human costs involved. Bullying and its effect will surely be a theme with this story.

Today the head teacher of the school where this girl was a pupil gave evidence. I was not there at the inquest, so I’m taking information from the item I saw and heard on the local news bulletin. This head teacher apparently said that there was no bullying at school, the girls who were identified as teasing their fellow pupil about her weight, had denied it. The bulletin said it was simply a ‘clash of personalities’.

Is your child being bullied?

It’s this kind of tepid, ridiculous response which makes me seethe. It’s the kind of line I’ve heard more than once. It’s an adult casting his judgement on what a so-called ‘clash of personalities’ can do to a child. An adult has to understand that what he/she might see as ‘banter’ or ‘childish pranks’ or  ‘pettiness’ , may be having a more profound effect on the victim of it. It’s no different than the dynamics of a workplace. Sometimes friendly banter from one person may be extremely offensive to someone else. How that person feels about that ‘friendly banter’ really matters.

While I don’t wish for one moment to suggest that my experiences are on a par with this terrible tragedy – it serves to highlight a point. Over the years, I’ve been the subject of ‘friendly banter’ and it’s been fine, I give as I much as I get. But on the odd occasion that friendly banter has crossed the line of what I think is acceptable. And that’s the key  – WHAT I THINK IS ACCEPTABLE. So I have had to ensure that the person knows that a line has been crossed.

Transfer this experience to a child. To me, if a child feels bullied and gives off all the signs that they are feeling victimised – surely a head teacher cannot dismiss this as a ‘clash of personalities’ or ‘pettiness’. And claiming that there’s no bullying worries me – where’s the school which truly has no bullying? and which way does a child turn if he/she feels no one is listening and nothing is going to change. At best it’s something they’ll never forget, at worst – well…..

Another thing which bothers me is that if parents are continually fed lines like this, they interpret it as it’s their child which is the problem and will often move schools. Therefore it can be the case that it’s the victim who pays – and not the bully. I often wonder when this happens, if the bullies who got away with it have gone on in later life to display similar behaviour.

Let’s be frank about this. Schools need to get to grips with bullying and deal with it more intelligently. Don’t pretend it’s not a problem, or it’s two people clashing where one is as responsible as another. Look at each case critically and apportion blame where it lies. Children need justice too.

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

 

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. 

Has the murder of Stephen Lawrence made you reflect? Are you rascist?

Stephen Lawrence was a young man murdered by rascists. We’ve known this for 18 years. Many of us have looked at the Lawrence family and been inspired by their dignity in the face of such horror – again and again and again.

It seems that we should reflect on rascism as a result of the court case and  the conviction of two of up to six people responsible for Stephen’s murder.

Thanks to the dedication of his mother and his father, Stephen’s death has impacted upon the Metropolitan Police (and rightly so) and it’s certainly made me think about how rascism can creep up on you. Watching the BBC’s Panorama revealed a little of that in the behaviour of investigating officers immediately following Stephen’s death. What initial actions would have been taken if a white youth had been stabbed to death?

I, for one, am very glad that some members of that awful gang have been convicted and I hope a situation arises when others can face the same justice. However, let’s face it, their lives have been haunted by Stephen and his family these past 18 years. And that’s not going to end any time soon. Good.

But are we really any less rascist today? Or is it simply more hidden? Or simply directed elsewhere?

As a journalist, I’ve encountered rascism on numerous occasions. Often I’ve been shocked and saddened. But equally I’ve encountered such sentiments from acquaintances and that’s equally shocking. I try so hard not to be rascist – but it would be naive of me to think that I’m totally free of it.

I have many friends whose skin colour is different than mine, whose nationality is different to mine and whose culture and belief system is different. I adore all of those friends and feel enriched by them. A good friend of mine who is French recently reminded me how good our care system for the elderly is here compared with France – it was a sobering reminder of how we stack up against other countries.

But there are a few incidents I recall which I have found shameful. One was many years ago when a friend of mine (I won’t be too specific) lived in the East End of London. On visits, if you went out into the garden there was a delicious smell of curry cooking, of spices and exotic aromas. Many people living in that area were (or their parents, grandparents) from Asia. I also remember going on a bus with that friend and we were the only white faces on board and I did find it strange. It gave me a brief insight into what it must be like to be ‘the only black in the white village’.

But the most shocking thing about this was that this friend’s brother was so rascist as to be unbelievable. Always using rude words about people of colour and talking about what he’d like to do to them. Soon after my  friendship ended, this brother became (yes you’ve guessed it) an officer in the Met. I’ve often worried about someone who was so meek on the outside but so rascist on the inside, could get into a police force. This all took place a couple of years after Stephen Lawrence’s death. So when the Met was found to be institutionally rascist – I wasn’t surprised.

More recently though, another friend went through a bad time which meant he had to claim benefits for a while. He had real trouble getting it sorted, while at the same time having a family to feed. He shouted out loud about it and I understood. It was a difficult financial time.

And then he went on to say something about ‘if his skin had been a different colour, he’d wouldn’t have had this trouble’ and ‘if he’d come from Eastern Europe, he’d have been given money hand over fist’. He lost me at these comments, I’m afraid. All of my sympathy drained away. Because these broad sweeping statements are simply not true, apart from being offensive to me.

In Swindon we do have an influx of people from Eastern Europe at the moment – often from Poland. They’ve come into the more middle class area of West Swindon. But the reality is that a large number of people from Poland have come here for many, many years – they’ve just lived in different areas of the town. We also have people coming from Afghanistan, Iran and many other places. Welcome, I say. All of these people enrich our town, hardly any of them are lazy, unwilling to work – in fact often the opposite.

The lesson of Stephen Lawrence for me is that rascism is still there – just below the surface and we must destroy it, one tiny drop at a time.

 

Fighting the drip, drip, drip of rascism....

Review of my year – what was 2011 like for you?

Today seems the right day to review my year in all aspects of my life – it’s a cathartic experience and helps get things in perspective.

Reflecting on life during 2011.....

Professionally it’s been a good year. For Fiona the journalist – I’ve made several films covering subjects as diverse as dementia care, OCD, rising energy prices and the Welsh Assembly elections (now known as the Welsh Government). Many thanks to ITV Wales, the BBC and Available Light for all of those projects. Alongside this, I’ve written articles on numerous occasions, so I thank the Swindon Link, Wiltshire Life and the Swindon Advertiser.

From a Mellow Media point of view it’s been a year of promise with several one-off projects, others requiring discretion and others which can be shouted about. Many thanks to Footdown, Business Scene, Sarah Arrow of Birds on the Blog, the Symondsbury Estate, Tailored For You and some new names which will also emerge in 2012. All of these companies and their people have provided work, new friends, new experiences and personal development, so many, many thanks. For all the colleagues out there in the world of business, let’s hope 2012 is full of hope as well as hard work. Let’s hope that gloomy predictions are not as bad as we’re hearing from various voices.

On a personal front, I’ve seen a child go to secondary school, another child start school and another child become one of the bigger fish in her small primary school pond. I’ve discovered both of my daughters are very good singers and my son sings along too. Both my girls took part in a community radio programme and they achieved many, many things throughout the year. My step-daughter passed her driving test and turned 18. She also presented an eight-minute film for regional BBC programme about tuition fees. There have been many occasions when I’ve been a very proud mum. And I should mention here a husband who has been supportive and loving for another year – we celebrated 11 years married. He’s put up with me for 15 though!

As a family we had a fantastic holiday in Orlando spending two weeks doing the whole Disney and Universal Studio thing. To say the least, it was fantastic. It was all we expected and more. But my biggest tip for anyone considering such a holiday – hire a large villa for a fraction of the cost of onsite accommodation, you get more comfort, better food (you can buy it yourself and actually have a salad) and often get your own pool. Hire a car and pay the $15 parking fee per day to park at any of the attractions. Also if a ride says you’ll get wet – it means you’ll get absolutely soaked so take a change of clothes. And pay the extra for Fast Passes or Express routes (it’s well worth it).

On another personal note, 2011 has been a year of terrible sadness for our family. In December we lost our neighbour and friend Roger to cancer at the age of 53, very suddenly. To look at his widow and see her pain every day is awful. But it was something sadly familiar to us. A big shadow this year was the death of our brother-in-law Peter in April at the age of 49 from heart failure. Pete died very suddenly after collapsing at the gym. He left my sister and three children, the youngest just five months old. To see my lovely baby sister trying to put her best foot forward every day, week, month since his death – has been a humbling lesson in life. And his parents and sister in Australia grieving at a distance is something we feel but can do nothing about…

So it’s with a mix of emotions that I face 2012 – I’m excited and challenged but as my daughter said to me a few days ago ‘Mum I just hope we don’t lose anyone else we love’ and that’s the main thing for me. Whatever bad things happen, put that event into perspective – there is always always someone worse off than you!

On that note – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Could you be a stand-up comedian? Are you the next Billy Connelly?

Christmas is a really good time to review television programmes for a blogger like me as part of my celebrations involves seeking out interesting and offbeat programmes.

Last night I watched Imagine…the Art of Stand-Up (Part One) and I really enjoyed it. It was a montage of thoughts and feelings about what makes good stand-up involving a range of comedians. I even clicked the red button and watched more. It was one of those programmes that you didn’t want to end – and I’m so glad I’ll get to see the rest this evening.

I’m not always a fan of this series as sometimes it’s really self-indulgent and catering for those who immerse themselves daily in art and is not aimed at ordinary mortals. This programme was an exception as it embraced some great stand-up comedians alongside those who are at the dawn of their careers. I’m thinking particularly of  Billy Connelly, Frank Skinner, Jack Dee or Omid Djalili – all comedians I’d pay good money to see live.

It also involved comedians who just aren’t my cup of tea like Jim Davidson – who I have seen live and, for me, is very dated. There was also some younger, newer talent including Simon Amstell, who frankly, would drive me crazy within about ten seconds, as he came across as so intense and introverted. For goodness sake, lighten up Sir!

This morning I’ve read a review in a daily newspaper which said the programme was frustrating, that it tried to cover too much and the suggestion is that it failed to do so. Reviewer, you’ve missed the point and have been led into a long, and boring, justification of your views.

This was not a programme designed to give all of the answers in a structured analytical exercise – it’s an interesting flavour of what comedians think of their art. How it makes them feel when on stage, what they think of hecklers, how their own lives and observations feed into their performances etc etc. For me, that’s enough. I find people interesting and I don’t always need to have a finite beginning, middle and end. So to this particular reviewer (she knows who she is) ‘baa humbug!’

There were also some other elements which, as a programme-maker, I loved. Although I’ve never produced a programme with this kind of budget, it’s not rocket science, you can easily see how it was shot and enjoy the dynamic of that process.

For example, there were many shots showing the cameras and the set-up of interviews, sprinkled with random shots of the interviewer, Alan Yentob prior to interview, Alan Yentob attending a couple of events (and a few necessary cutaways during the interviews). I love that style of involving a presenter, where they play a more subliminal but important role. No need for endless pieces-to-camera or voice over. I also loved the simple way that different subjects were introduced with a few simple words at the bottom right of screen. This suggests to me that there was no rigid structure to the interviews, that they flowed and ebbed quite naturally (even though I know that the BBC style is often very structured).

The locations were also interesting to me. A lot of the interviews were done, I think, in the same location as much of the film The King’s Speech was shot, especially with the less well known comedians. I surmise, though clearly I don’t know, that the most famous comedians were visited personally by the crew (wherever they live) and the less well known were asked to attend a shoot at a single location. That way the budget was carefully used to include the best stand-up comedians and those seen as rising stars. But there was also an element of young comedians ‘trying out’ new material – which I found really interesting. Simon Amstell testing his new material on a small audience, writing notes, ticking off lines that worked and did not. He may not be the kind of comedian I like yet – but I admire his tenacity and his commitment to his art.

Could you do stand-up comedy! I know I wouldn't have the bottle.....

Needless to say I’m looking forward to the second instalment tonight on BBC2 – somehow I was not expecting Imagine to be near the top of my Christmas tv list this year…..

Tuition fees – they’re a great idea? Aren’t they?

Facing the future - to pay or not to pay? for university.

Today was a proud day for me – my beautiful step-daughter embraced the spotlight and appeared on BBC1 in the West presenting a film about tuition fees.

In a short film for regional current affairs programme Inside Out West, she talked about the decision she faces when it comes to going to university or not. Pride aside, it’s an issue we’ve discussed a lot. We cannot pay for her to go to university so she would have to pay her way, through debt.

This has made me think of my own experience of higher education and question the whole issue of tuition fees. At a basic level, I hate the idea, I want all education to be free. It feels as if it’s something that all young people should be able to enjoy.

I’m not coming from a political view-point – I try to avoid that as I’m a journalist and am not keen on pinning my colours to the mast. 

It was 1984 when I was in my step-daughter’s situation. This was a time when just six per cent of those eligible – went to university.

In fact I wasn’t clever enough to go, I went to a college of higher education. I had a great time and have no regrets. I’ve always worked since, but I’ve never earned big bucks. However, for most years, I’ve earned more than £21k.

What have I got out of it? Huge life experience, a knowledge of how to seek knowledge effectively, friends from all walks of life, a worldview that means that life has no boundaries when it comes to career or travel, dreams can be chased, education is enriching. I also work in a career where a degree is essential, it gives you a head start – and that’s all.

But there is one big difference. I left with minimal debt – less than £1,000 after three years. Each year, my fees were paid and I got a grant of £2,200 to pay my bills. I did do a weekend job in my last year of study.

So it’s shocking to me that my own step-daughter or my other children could face a debt of up to £50,000 – and with interest this could rise to £75,000.

Now, almost 50 per cent of young people can go to university, is it realistic that we, as a society, can fund in the way that I was funded?

And is the cost really so high? Martin Lewis of Martins Money Tips says the actual cost will not be as much as that.  If you earn enough to pay it all back, then you will. If not, then you won’t. And there’s something in that. But it still feels like a tax on education.

And the fact that if you’re rich enough you can pay fees upfront undoubtedly gives young people from wealthier families an advantage. The price tag does put off young people from low and middle income families, so there’s another issue there for me. Applications are almost ten per cent down already, and it’s early days.

In all, I understand tuition fees, though I don’t like them. I’m not confident that poorer students will choose university and I’m pretty sure that those from middle income families will also think twice.

I’m not sure if that’s good for a society which wants to compete at the highest level –  but time will tell.  

Pontins – do you want to go there on holiday now?

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Anyone watch Watchdog tonight?

You know the programme you ‘cannot afford to miss’. BBC 1 – Thursday?

If you are in business and you want to know anything about handling a negative story, you must tune in.

 

Tonught was a classic. Under the spotlight this time was Pontins holidays in general but the Somerset site at Brean Down in particular.

On the menu were stained bed clothes (yes,everything), mould, human hair in places which should have seen disinfectant and dusters.

All captured in stills and video, as well as the filming by the team featuring the alternative seven dwarves – Stinky, Grimy and Mouldy to name three.

Back to the studio with a woman representing the new owner Britannic Holidays.

 

Then followed a master class in how to make your company look as amateur and second class as possible. Even worse, how to make your business sector look awful.

Tip One – immediately be confrontational, especially to a presenter like Anne Robinson and try to make her look small. This makes Miss Robinson even more determined to undermine you.

 

Tip Two – use the tired excuse that you had 50 million satisfied customers and only ten had complained to Watchdog. Pointless. We aren’t going to hear from the satisfied customers. All customers should be satisfied, that should matter. Remember the adage ‘the customer is always right’? Well, when they’ve got photographs and video to support their case, they are right.

 

Tip Three – shout out and sound as if you are about to cry, quickly followed up by a suggestion that ‘we offer affordable British holidays’. Sadly, the message we hear therefore is that British holiday makers who are on a budget should expect poor standards. Shut up you whinging Brits with little money and taste…

Media training clearly went amiss here. If indeed any had taken place. 

Reading between the lines, I suspect that this lady is passionate about upgrading Pontins – it needs it!

 

But by taking it personally and trying to criticise Watchdog for covering the story, her message was completely lost and she spent valuable airtime trying to score points off Anne Robinson and the Watchdog team.

How would you have handled it if you had been Mrs Pontins in the hotseat? Would you have behaved differently. Do let me know……(I’ll share my advice if you are good enough to comment).

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