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television

Rolf Harris, sexual abuse and the world of television and the media

As we know – this week, entertainer Rolf Harris was sent to prison for abusing children – using his celebrity status as a cloak for his disgusting activities. His past has now caught up with him, he’s paying the price and so will his family. Justice perhaps for those he abused.

He’s one of a line of people, often most famous in the 70s and 80s,  who have been accused – and some subsequently convicted – of allegedly having one public persona and another private persona which is infinitely darker, sexually motivated and criminal.

Within hours, more women, many over the age of consent, starting talking about Harris’s  inappropriate behaviour towards them. Then there also came the voice of those who think all of this is nonsense, a snowball out of control.

I have some sympathy with this I suppose because in those decades, some behaviour was more acceptable than it would be now. When I started out in the 1980s, I lost count of the amount of times I had my bottom pinched or slapped, or talked to someone who kept their eyes aligned with my boobs or who, on one occasion, actually told me his wife didn’t understand him. I could handle all of this  – more than handle it in fact. Several times, I pinched a man’s bottom in return, told someone my face was up here and, with the ‘wife doesn’t understand me’ line, I laughed in the face of the CEO of a large company who said that to me. Positions of  ‘power’ don’t impress me.

However, there were darker moments. Times when I felt the undertone was completely ‘other’ and the threat was something more. There’s a difference between banter and feeling compromised. I remember once visiting the home of a successful businessman who suddenly, quietly and firmly sexually propositioned me in front of his wife – I ran out and drove off at a rate of knots. I also remember one man, then in his 50s, and someone I often saw in the course of  my job, who would keep coming up behind me and gently stroking the back of my neck. It was very invasive.

Therefore, if you know this, you might understand why I got caught up in an online spat with someone who was using phrases like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ suggesting that somehow women are ‘cashing in’ on Harris’s  conviction. There seemed to be a suggestion that these women were out for money. Or were unworthy of being believed, or were somehow complicit because they didn’t do anything about it at the time.  However, I would challenge any one to do something different to those victims, in the same circumstances.

Are you being abused?

Are you being abused?

Anyone who is a journalist would know that the majority of people who suffer abuse – both men and women – don’t tell anyone at all for very long periods of time. Sometimes for ever.

They will often feel they are somehow at fault, that something they did or said, did make them complicit in the act of abuse. There are refuges nationwide full of people who’ve put up with abuse for very long periods of time. 

 

This online ‘banter’ made me very angry – because I know what Rolf Harris was like and I’ve known for years.

 

Why didn’t you say something I hear you all cry? It’s very simple. I’ve never met him, he did nothing to me.

However, he did do something a good friend of mine – she told me – and I believed her. Why didn’t she report it? Well, that’s a matter for her – but I can probably hazard a guess. She probably thought it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Why? 

Remember the man who stroked my neck that I mentioned earlier? I did confront him and told him not to touch me again after he’d done it several times. I also did report it to my boss – a lovely man but one who appeared out of his depth and probably felt it was too minor a thing to escalate. Maybe he was right. I’d not been groped intimately. It was just the feel of that man touching me was all wrong, that’s very hard to convey in a telephone call – to your boss.  To this day, I don’t know if he was told by anyone other than me that he was out of order.

However, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I’d heard all of the stories about the ‘casting couch’ though, frankly I’ve only ever met one person in my career who I thought used her womanhood to achieve her goals. I wanted a successful career and I didn’t want to get caught up in a scandal or a case which could become something really nasty. Life in the media as a working class woman was hard enough.

Imagine that man being a celebrity like Rolf Harris? Who would believe me at that time? And even if they did, what would have happened? To me? Would it have possibly damaged my career? Anyone could have accused me of inviting the attentions of a famous man. Who would have wanted to employ me as the person who’d accused Harris? Would I inadvertently become damaged goods myself?

Now, more than 20 years on,  it would be different if someone acted inappropriately towards me.

Of course I don’t look the same, I’m older, I don’t have the slim figure I had then.

However, I have the same drive, the same passion for my chosen path – but I also have experience. My experience has shown me that if someone makes me feel threatened – I should listen to that instinct and act on it.

If someone acts inappropriately towards me – is he going to do it to someone else? Has he done it to anyone before me? Experience has taught me that it’s highly likely. For that reason, today, I’d make much noise.

And to those women who found the courage to speak out – you might inspire others who have kept such abuse a secret – thus throwing the spotlight on offenders who’ve been able to hide their behaviour for a life time.

 

Director of the Graham Norton show talks about his life as a carer – part two

Steve & Robert

Enjoying a meal together

This is part two of a story which I started telling during national Carers’ Week last week – it’s very easy to have a stereotypical view of what a carer looks like. However, in my experience, no one chooses such a role. Life simply demands it – and it’s not easy and support can be sadly lacking. Please feel free to comment and share Steve & Robert’s story….

I met both Steve and Robert where we spent an afternoon discussing their lives together in the garden of their very quintessential English home in Wiltshire. I think, I should clarify, given the context of this article. I met Steve for a couple of hours before Robert joined us. 

When he did I was struck by two things immediately – how young he is at 44 years old, and how ill he looks. His movements were so deliberate and very slow as if every step took an effort of will.  I felt his taking the time and trouble to meet and talk to me was important however bad a day he was experiencing.

The couple have been together since 1999, and they were one of the first gay couples in Wiltshire to enter into a civil partnership on December 22 2005. Professionally Robert is a costume designer and the couple had met when he was working on a children’s television programme.

Steve said: “He was, and is,  a very good-looking guy. He had such a zest for life, he was hugely compassionate and generous. Often in the media industry you work alongside people who are very self-obsessed and quite shallow but I knew very quickly that Robert was different. He’s made me become a better person myself. He has a strong spiritual belief, loves nature and the countryside – while I was a complete townie,” Steve, 52, said.

Life was good. A couple in love, with a great social life, spending much time in London, both earning a healthy living and then moving to the countryside to a dream home close to one of Robert’s favourite places in the world  – Avebury.

Things changed when, about seven years ago, Robert caught a summer ‘flu’ but just didn’t seem to be able to get rid of it. Numerous visits to the GP led to a diagnosis of a virus. It was several months until a different diagnosis was made.

ME/CFS is a poorly understood condition and because there is no definitive medical test, some people still do not believe it actually exists.

The Countess of Mar, in a debate in the House of Lords in October 2011 stated: “ME has been classified as a neurological condition since at least 1968… however, for all these years,  sufferers from this awful debilitating illness have been ignored, derided and mistreated… It seems that no matter how often ministers and senior officials confirm their acceptance of the seriousness of this condition, nothing will change until the culture both within and outside the NHS changes.”

ME/CFS is a debilitating neurological condition that affects at least four in 1,000 people; women, men and children of all ages and backgrounds. It causes persistent, profound fatigue that is not cured by sleep; muscle pain that worsens after any physical activity and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It can be mild to severe, and for many people it lasts for years. It can sometimes get better and it can often recur. There is no known cause, treatment or cure. It’s more common in women than men.

Steve said: “I’ve become aware of the government gradually dismantling the safety net which we’ve had in place since the end of World War II. If you fall into difficulty, you are now very much on your own. 

“It’s an enormous shock when the wheels come off, and you realise there is virtually no help available.  We are an extremely rich country – more billionaires live in London than any other capital city in the world.

“According to the Sunday Times Rich List the wealth of the richest has doubled in the past five years (15% rise in the past year alone).

“Yet we are sitting passively watching the dismantlement of the welfare state – something we could afford during the post-war austerity years, but something we are told is too expensive now. I worry for others who might find themselves in similar or worse positions due to no fault of their own, just the misfortune to be ill.”

“For people who are really sick and need care there is now the extra suffering the govt policies / Atos have brought on the long term sick, and cuts in services. If we are struggling and finding it hard my heart goes out to people in more difficult circumstances and for people struggling on their own with no one to care for them. I can’t imagine how they cope.”

Steve has struggled with the fact that there appears to be no practical support for someone in his situation, little access to any kind of respite and, having exhausted their savings, little, if any, financial support.

In order for Steve to work at all, he has to rely on the generosity of friends to come in to spend time with, and care for, Robert when he goes to work. It also means planning has also entered Steve’s life in a big way.

“Carers Support Wiltshire has been good at offering an ear. It seems that there are plenty of places where one can get some emotional help or telephone counselling but to be honest it’s the practical help and assistance that would be more useful.

“I often have a problem that in order to leave the house and go to work I’d like to be able to request physical help from someone who could come and spend an hour or so supporting Robert while I’m away and ensuring he has food at meal times as he is often unable to prepare this for himself.

“But this kind of practical help isn’t available and certainly not at an affordable price. Being a carer has greatly reduced my ability to earn and help is not available at all to those who rely on sickness benefits. To get this you really have to turn to private care agencies where you are likely to get a different person on each occasion which is likely to be more distressing for the person needing the care.

“We already see how appalling this kind of help is for older vulnerable people requiring care in the home – a rushed 15 minute visit simply isn’t good enough.

“But these things cost money and it seems we as a nation are not prepared to fund it. I have a stressful situation coming up in August as I have been offered a job I would like to do but I will have to spend a couple of days away from home in Edinburgh. This will be very stressful for Robert not having me around to give the support he needs. It would be great if there were some official support I could rely on – even pay to contribute towards.

“Mornings are not good for Robert, he gets very disturbed sleep is an integral part of his illness and often he won’t be up until at least 10.30am.

“It’s very important to his health us that he eats well as his body is unable to function at all without adequate and good quality nutrition. So we don’t have any processed foods at all. So I have to prepare breakfast and then I have to plan meals and cook ready for the day – especially if I need to leave to go work.

“I do have to arrange for someone to come around and spend time with Robert and ensure there’s some food which can just be popped in the oven.

“This means I have to work from home a lot but sometimes that’s just not possible. When you are directing a programme like the Graham Norton Show you have to be in the tv studio on set and on time because that is how our show is made.

“This is the job that I love and I obviously need to work to earn a living to support us both. But sometimes it makes me feel very bad, really awful when Robert is so ill and just doesn’t want to be left on his own.

“But the world of telly is demanding – people are sympathetic to a point but you fast realise when you are self employed people just want you to get on with your job without making a fuss.”

Gone are the days when Steve can stay behind after work for a drink with the rest of his work colleagues. He feels compelled to get home as quickly as possible if Robert has been alone for many hours.

“I have no social life outside of my life with Robert. This means I feel a bit estranged from my colleagues and after a while, socially, you just get forgotten.”

None of what Steve has said is news to Robert. He’s well aware of the impact his condition has had on his partner.

“I know if I’d been on my own I would have gone under,” Robert said. “If I look back at myself in the 1980s and 1990s, I was a media worker leading an exciting and fulfilling life. Now I’m a shadow of my former self. Steve is my support and my rock and like him, I do often feel that there is too little compassion out there.

“We need to have more compassion for people. I’m a very social person, I loved my job and my life and I didn’t want to lose it. I feel guilty that I’m ill so much of the time and guilty that Steve is in this with me.”

Robert has found some solace in writing both journals and books and in his art. He hopes that one day he might be able to publish these or find an outlet for some of his work.

Robert said: “The support needed for people with these conditions is practically non-existent. As there is no effective treatment you’re essentially left on your own. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture are very effective in relieving pain for example,  but they are a hugely unaffordable expense for most people.

“Travel discount passes or parking privileges would be hugely helpful due to the extremely restricted mobility, but regulations make it nearly impossible to qualify for one.

“Isolation is a particular problem for many disabled people with restricted mobility and lack of help with this means that you are essentially left on your own to cope with very little support. It certainly makes you one of life’s survivors.

“I am speaking mainly about the condition I have – CFS. It’s a condition with an invisible disability. If the disability is not immediately apparent, then it is often side-lined and misunderstood.

“It seems to me and many others the current government are targeting the most vulnerable and that’s is a shocking insight into where we find ourselves in modern Britain.”

Steve said: “I have to say when I look at the values of modern Britain I am ashamed. Hate crimes against disabled people are at their highest levels since records began, with an increase in 50% between 2009 and 2011,. These figures correlate strongly with the “welfare reforms” brought in by the government. What the general public are unaware of, is that 6.5 million provide unpaid care to family, friends and neighbours  suffering from long-term physical or mental ill health, disability or old age, saving the state £119 billion a year. There is also an adverse effect on the economy as a whole through losing skilled workers who find the conflicting demands of both caring and working impossible. More practical support for carers would enable more carers to work. 

I understand that public money is tight and that there needs to be some form of means-testing for benefits, but providing services should be an equitable asset for the population as a whole. The threshold for getting help is now so low, you have to be virtually destitute before you are entitled to very small amounts.”  

Factoids:  

Every day 6,000 people will take on a caring role in the UK. It’s believed there are about 6.5m people offering unpaid care to a family member or friend. 

Carers help with personal things such as getting someone washed and dressed, turning them in their sleep, helping them move about or administering their medication. They also help, or take on complete responsibility for tasks like shopping, laundry, cleaning, cooking, filling in forms or managing money.

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

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.

Where does sexual innuendo between men and women at work cross the line?

Just felt the need today to blog about the whole discussion over sexual harassment in the light of the latest debate surrounding a particular politician.

I’ve faced up to sexual harassment – but did I do it the right way or not?

I listened to a discussion on a weekly political show, on a weekend discussion programme where the issue was discussed in some detail. It’s a mixture of women, men, power, control and sexual desire. A variation on the whole theme of the ‘casting couch’, ‘men in power’ etc etc.

It made me reflect on more than 20 years working in various areas of the media and the times I’d encountered such practices. Which have been few, I should hasten to add. There is  no part of the media where I’ve thought ‘can’t work there too many men with wandering hands’.

However there have been a small number of occasions where the behaviour of some men, and women, have surprised me. I won’t say shocked as it takes a lot to shock me.

Please bear in mind, I’m not talking about inappropriate flings or relationships here – I’m talking about moments or revelations which happen and which completely blindside you.

I should set a context – I’m a naturally tactile person, many journalists are, I’ve noticed. I will often touch someone while talking to them, it’s part of my natural body language I suppose. I can be flirtatious but I have a line which cannot be crossed. That is where healthy contact and banter becomes something overtly sexual, makes me feel uncomfortable or seedy. But I’m good at making it clear when that line has been crossed.

I can think of several occasions both professionally and personally where my outgoing personality has led others to think I’m romantically interested in them. I have had to have several difficult conversations about the feelings not being returned, reminders about the fact that I’m married and I take that seriously, and, in some cases, friendships and connections have remained intact. I had these conversations when I was single and when married.

Occasionally however, none of the above apply and here are three incidents I’d like to share.

One: 

 

What do you do when, as a very young green journalist, an older journalist who is always friendly suddenly thinks it’s okay to touch you inappropriately? In this case, it was a man in his 50s, probably, who thought it was okay to stroke the back of my neck. Not abusive but creepy to me.

When it happened the first time, I let it go. The next time, I told him not to touch me again. I have no memory of his response. I think he beat a hasty retreat.

I did tell my boss at the time but I was postively encouraged to take it no further. After all, nothing had really happened. I was told that the person would be ‘told’ about it. Must’ve worked, it didn’t happen again. I just hope it didn’t happen to anyone else.

 

Two:

 

Another time was personal. A man known to me, retired and someone I saw relatively often, pinned me against a doorframe in his house and tried to snog me. A whole tongue down the throat affair while his wife was in another room. I was a teenager.

It was completely vile and even now, I can recall the feeling of disgust.

Again I told the man, who was in a senior position within his community, to ‘never touch me again or I’ll tell your wife’. Seemed to work.

But I’ve always wondered if he ever did it to anyone else….I also spoke up about it at home but I think it took a long time for my parents to believe it had happened. I know for sure, that my natural revulsion and pushing him away, may have stopped things being much worse.

 

Three:

 

The other incident I recall was far more recent – within the last five years. I was working alongside someone I’d known for a long time but had not worked directly with and we were in a small room together, we had to be for the job we were doing at the time.

A discussion was taking place which had got around to families and relationships. Nothing unusual in that. Then he asked me a question which really threw me – he asked ‘if I liked three-in-a-bed relationships?’

I looked at him and I think my reply was something bland like ‘I’m a one-man woman me’ and tried to forget it.

The context didn’t set up a question like that and I immediately knew this could all go horribly wrong. I also felt I didn’t want to work with him again straightaway. I did, however, finish that task and nothing happened. I never worked with him again.

I didn’t ever complain about this inappropriate moment. But I find myself asking the same question yet again  – did it happen to anyone else and was it even worse?

 

My conclusion is that most women will have experiences like these both privately and personally. I feel I dealt with them to the best of my ability at the time. I have no idea if I was right or wrong. I can only say that I trusted my judgment of how it made me feel and acted accordingly.

 

Happy New Year – my top ten festive moans…..

It’s 2013 and welcome to my Christmas and New Year top ten pet hates about the festive and holiday season.

Everyone has to have a rant now and then –  me more than most. So this week it’s the things which irritate me about Christmas and the New Year. Do let me know if you agree or, even better, what your additional gripes might be….

1. Reduced rubbish collection – the one time of the year when you are bound to collect more rubbish is Christmas, especially when you have children. So why are collections reduced or erratic at this time? I don’t buy the argument that people have time off – I’ve often worked over Christmas and New Year, and the only time I ever got paid extra money was for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – and I wouldn’t expect a collection on any of those days. Recycling in Swindon is great – but not great when the bins aren’t collected. So I predict that for the next few weeks, the local authority will see an increase in its general waste and landfill costs because of the distruption over this period.

The tree must come down, along with all of the decorations….

2. Too many repeats on television – I love television, I work on television programmes and I know when goes into making programming. But is it just me or was the majority of programming over the Christmas period repeats? While some are accepted eg. The Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins – I felt there was little to look forward to in terms of new material. Also programmes were repeated loads of times. It’s the one time to draw people in but there were few highlights. Maybe, Miranda,  Downton Abbey special (which was horribly predictable) and the soaps (none of which I watch). Africa was one highlight too. The rest was pretty dull.

3. Turkey – I don’t mind a small turkey on Christmas Day but however hard I try I always end up with far more than needed. It’s the one time of the year when I try to buy an organic bird. I ordered one (I won’t say from where as that wouldn’t be fair) and asked for the smallest. I saw the tick on the list for a 4kg turkey – or around that weight. When it came it was more than 5.5kg – when I queried it I was told that they didn’t have many smaller ones so were having to move them around – without actually informing the customer. I was given no warning and it cost me almost £20 more than I was expecting to pay.  I did comment that if I’d budgeted for the amount originally quoted and hadn’t been able to pay that extra money – what would they have done then? Next year, if we go for turkey again, I’ll buy frozen.

4. Crackers – why are crackers so c**p these days? One of the joys of crackers is the bang when they go off, so many now don’t bang at all – and their contents are awful. And there’s not much choice around. It’s either totally rubbish or slightly better contents for twice the price. Why bother?

5. Round-robin letters in Christmas cards – I didn’t have any of these this year but I usually get a couple each year. It’s like a newsletter to a friend about your family’s achievements. I can’t put my finger on why this irritates me, it may not be logical, because I get them all the time in my business life and I don’t mind. Maybe it’s because it takes the personality out of a Christmas card. If you want to tell me something, just write a couple of lines. It makes all the difference.

6. The length of school holidays – as a working parent, this is something which bugs me often. Many people went back to work on Jan 2 including me  – but children don’t go back to school until Jan 7 or 8. Why? Believe me, most children want to go back to school earlier, they get bored at home, no matter what they’ve got to entertain them and they miss their friends. When you are self-employed, or in certain professions, it’s difficult to take yet more days off so inevitably child care is needed. Which means an expensive time of year becomes even more expensive.

7. Awful present dilemma – what to do with those presents you dislike but, as they’ve come from someone reasonably close, you have to keep at least for a while. We have had several of these within our household this year – can’t give too much detail. Some we’ve changed for other things, some we’ve put up with, some have gone immediately to charity and some we’ve put into the ‘spare present drawer’ for those times when you’ve forgotten someone’s birthday. But for the latter just be careful you don’t give them back to the same person. I’ve burned my fingers with this more than once.

8. What to do with Christmas cards? – we’ve got loads of this year, it comes with having three children at home. I usually recycle but as our bins are overflowing through non-collection and we don’t have cardboard recycling nearby – I guess they’ll live with us longer than usual. And for those of you who want to suggest that I make my own cards next year – it’ s not my thing but you can have then if you want them.

9. The way prices rise the minute the new year comes in – it’s “Happy New Year and here’s what it will cost you” . On New Year’s Day it’s rail fares, the Second Severn Crossing toll – it’s as if certain companies can’t wait to announce that you will be paying more money. This is on top of the fact that many families will face the inevitable credit card bill, rising energy prices as announced by my provider (I’ve now switched) and some of us are losing our child benefit this month. So in January 2013, I am considerably less well off than January 2012. Thanks a lot.

10. Taking down the decorations and the tree – has to be done of course and it’s not really a rant, just an observation. It’s a joy to put them up and a chore to take them down. And where to put all of those new baubles that you sneakily popped on the overloaded tree and that you are now going to have to own up to….and for me this year, an extra sadness. When we put up our tree in early December we took loads of photographs of our lovely cat Chloe covered in tinsel. Sadly a week later, she died following a seizure. And now I have to take them down and look at that tinsel and….well, you get the picture….

Our family cat Chloe who was part of my life for 16 years….

A few things I hate about LinkedIn….please don’t sell at me!

Today’s blog is a bit of a rant. I cannot help it but within the space of 12 hours, two things about LinkedIn have really annoyed me.

It’s also made me think about the role each social media offering plays in my life, both professional and personal.

For me, LinkedIn is a professional site where I can share insights, news, interesting bits and bobs with other business people.

These might be people I admire, I like, I’ve worked with or I simply know or they’ve requested to be linked to me and I’ve checked them out and thought ‘yes’.

I do try not to directly market to individuals with whom I am linked. I try not to do this because frankly I hate it being done to me. I usually post information about what I’m doing, appeals for help etc on my profile or status and leave it to others to engage directly if they are interested.

I’ve found that if I’m linked to an organisation like a hotel – I might get individual messages relating to events which I usually delete. Today, I’ve been targetted by two separate individuals in two different ways and it’s safe to say I’m fed up.

One was a person from overseas, asking me if she could talk to me as she’s got ideas for television programmes and would like to talk to someone about them. There followed a basic list of about five ideas. Great.

I get numerous requests like this on an annual basis and they take up lots of time. People often think they’ve got a great idea for television but have no idea how to take the next step. Well, let  me give it to you straight – go to an established independent production company in the UK and ask for a hearing. Unless you are hand in hand with someone within broadcasting that’s one of the only ways to be heard. And another fact, less than five per cent of those ideas will get beyond first base. I know this because I’ve tried it many times, and yes, I’ve had some success.

Hearing the ideas, explaining how tv works, helping with contacts takes a lot of time and effort. Plus I don’t know how the system works in Australia (where this person is purportedly based), it could be totally different but I doubt it. And if it’s America, you’ll probably get all literature posted back to you unopened.

So, harsh as it may sound, I declined the message. Only to get two more with lots of question marks and exclamation marks as though I’ve done something heinous. In the end I send a brief reply outlining the above. So I’m now giving notice – if I don’t know you well on LinkedIn and you want that type of information – I’ll give it to you at my normal daily working rate. Please DM me, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Don’t yell at me with your marketing message on LinkedIn – that’s not what I like. Tell me quietly and I’ll consider…..

The other message came from a man asking me to buy his book. It’s related to raising money for charity, it’s a dreadful personal story. The first time I received this message, I replied in some detail. I’ve received it again, the same message clearly sent out as a round-robin request a few months later.

How do I feel about that? My empathy is the same but I still feel like I’m being barked at in a very personal way. If I want to buy a book I will, please don’t try to make me guilty enough to buy it. I went through a hard time with a terrible illness a few years ago and I started to write a book about it – but don’t worry I won’t send you personal messages trying to sell it to you. I’ll let you know about it in passing and the rest is up to you!

Is there an etiquette to this type of marketing? I don’t really know. I just know what really annoys me.

And by the way, I’m holding a DIY PR day for business women on October 23 in Swindon to help you do your own PR stuff.  If you are interested – just contact us through this website. I won’t be sending you direct messages on LinkedIn!

 

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).

 

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…..

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