Friday 29th June

Hey party girl. Try and contain your excitement

You know how it is. It’s Friday, it’s the end of June, you’re getting ready to go away for the weekend and you think (again) about how you haven’t updated your blog for while.

I have been meaning to write about the Leveson inquiry since at least 22 February when Michael Gove said something about freedom of speech that I felt sat oddly with the nature of the inquiry into press ethics and practices. So that’s on my list.

Then I thought about sharing news of a briefing I went to on the Olympic torch relay and how it either will or won’t affect Salisbury and its many businesses when the relay comes through on 11 and 12 July.

This week I visited a care home to interview the manager for a county magazine and thought I’d write something about that. I filed to the magazine but haven’t updated this blog about that either.

Instead I’m simply going to wish everyone a great weekend. I hope it doesn’t rain too heavily on your parade; enjoy yourself and see you on Twitter next week.


Keeping calm and carrying on

Original poster

This morning again the first thing my older daughter said after waking and coming downstairs was: “I don’t want to go to school.” I nodded and tried to look sympathetic. Then carried on with what I was doing. We’ve had this before – last week after her first day at her new school when she sobbed and sobbed and pleaded to be taken back to her old school. Then on Sunday night she talked quite calmly about how the work is harder at her new school and how she doesn’t want to have to change for PE because she has to wear a tie at this new school and she doesn’t know how to tie a tie. Nor does she want to be shown how to loosen it, lift it over her head and then put it back on again after PE. Nor will she accept that she could just leave the tie off after PE until a teacher asks her why she isn’t wearing one. She doesn’t want to talk to the teacher about how to tie and tie. She doesn’t want me to talk to the teacher to say she’s finding the adjustment to a new school difficult.

When we get to school, she is mildly aggressive given we’re standing in a playground with 270 other kids and their parents and neither of us wants a scene. She shoves her book bag into me, then when it’s time for the kids to line up she says, “Go away.” She shoves me away. When I look back as I’m leaving I can’t catch her eye.

Over breakfast this morning she asked me in a high-pitched voice to help her, help her with a puzzle in her Puffin Post magazine. Could I just do all the puzzles on this page? Stupidly I didn’t say it’s breakfast time, I’ve only been awake half an hour and I’ve already made sandwiches and put out breakfast things, I don’t want to do puzzles at this time of day. I started doing the puzzle while eating cereal, writing the answers to missing Christmas song lyrics into a tiny space with a pencil. My older daughter complained that she couldn’t read my writing at which point I said I didn’t want to do the puzzle just then and it was hard to fit the answer into the space available. She said again that she doesn’t want to go to school.

My younger daughter meanwhile had been upstairs writing a story since she woke up. When I went upstairs to bring their uniforms and underwear down so they can dress in the sitting room in front of the telly as is their wont I told my younger daughter it was breakfast time and asked her to come downstairs. “No,” she replied. She says no to everything I ask at the moment. Sometimes, when I don’t have a blank piece of paper to give her or won’t give her a biscuit just before tea time, she just screams instead of saying no and jumps up and down on the spot. She is almost seven.

Today, when it was time to leave the house I suggested my younger daughter put on a winter coat rather than a mac as the weather is getting colder. She said she doesn’t like her winter coat so I said OK, wear the mac. Then she said she wanted to wear her Gap zip up cardigan instead. I said no, that is not for school, it’s for the weekends. She started screaming and threw her mac on the floor saying she wouldn’t wear it. I picked it up and asked her to put it on, trying to stay calm. She refused. I asked her twice more. She refused twice more. I snapped and cuffed her on the arm.

I’m not proud of it but I feel cross very quickly at the moment. Last night before tea my younger daughter was screaming about something and I slapped the table so hard the palm of my hand stung. I get so instantly frustrated with her defiance, against a backdrop of being generally wound up by either one of them whingeing and because I feel under pressure to “get things right”, to get to school on time rather than after the whistle has gone in the school playground, to get both girls to eat a decent supper, to get to sleep at a decent time so we’re all a bit less stressed out. Never mind getting a new house sorted out or doing some paid work.

“Don’t boss me about,” my younger daughter keeps saying to me. “I’m the grown up,” I say. And anyway, asking her to brush her teeth or get out of the way of an oncoming bicycle are not instances, in my mind, of bossing her about but of an adult supervising a child as they grow in the world. My younger daughter obviously sees it all as control. And when I think I’m giving them freedom to watch DVDs before breakfast and while they’re getting dressed, or to watch telly in the evening before and after tea or when I leave the computer out for them to use or offer to read them a story they either take it for granted that they should be allowed to do these things or they don’t want whatever is being offered.

One of my pressure points, or resentments if you like, is that I feel I’m doing everything I can to ease the transition to a new home and a new school. Plus I am doing all the things I usually do for them: taking them to school each day, picking them up from school so they can come home and relax, ensuring they’ve got the right, clean uniform, shining their shoes, helping them with homework without doing it for them then putting it in their bookbags on the right day, helping them with spellings and reading books, remembering an instrument, remembering the school forms that need returning, cooking what I consider to be a decent meal every night with vegetables that they don’t want, making a packed lunch that is filling but has a chocolate treat in it, and so on and so on. When they are either defiant in my younger daughter’s case or aggressive or moaning in my older daughter’s case I can feel a bit petty. I can think, “I’m not going to make you a packed lunch tomorrow.” Or, “I’m not going to cook a meal tomorrow, see how you like that.” Or even, “I might just get on a train somewhere and leave you to sort things out with daddy, who isn’t even in the house between 7.30am and 7.30pm three days a week. See how you all get on.”

I know it’s pathetic and unrealistic. I am the adult. I should be able to hold things together and not lose my temper. I should see that we are all over-wrought and we don’t need to be. We don’t have to “get things right”. We just have to be good enough at what we’re doing, to get by and be happy and healthy.

Every day I think today I won’t shout, I won’t rise to the bait if either of the children is challenging. I will lead by example, speaking calmly and quietly. And every day I fail. Today I made one of those posters that says: “Keep calm and carry on.” I’ve put one up in the kitchen. Let’s see if it helps when they’re home later this afternoon.

What’s more, I am lowering my standards so we can all feel under a bit less pressure.


Like Minds in 2011

Like Minds 2011

“All companies are becoming media companies.” Discuss.

That was the theme of a short debate yesterday at Like Minds 2011, a conference of media and tech types held in Exeter for the third year running.

The debate’s starting point – which one audience member attributed to internet guru and author of Here Comes Everybody Clay Shirky – was that all companies are now creating and supplying content in a bid for greater engagement with consumers. The audience member said Shirky’s point was that in the modern media age all companies have to manage information.

Glenn Le Santo, a journalist on the panel debating the idea, insisted it was rubbish to think all companies are becoming media companies. He said that by definition a media company makes its money out of creating or distributing information or entertainment. Other companies make their money out of selling other goods and services, although of course they use the media to sell.

Stephen Bateman, formerly of Pearson and Hachette and now a publishing adviser, pointed out that some brands have created content for years as well as sold their core products. He cited the Michelin travel and hotel guides and the Guinness World Records as examples.

The word disintermediation was used. As I understand it this means the breaking down of barriers between companies selling things and consumers buying things. Instead of needing the press or television or radio to talk to consumers, companies can now talk to them direct on Facebook, on Twitter and in a host of other ways I haven’t thought of.

I’m inclined to agree with Le Santo. All companies are not becoming media companies. They are merely using the media in new, sometimes more direct ways to talk to customers. All companies need people who think about and use the media, whether that’s in-house or via an agency. Nothing new there.

More revolutionary for me was Molly Flett of word of mouth marketing agency 1000Heads asking if we’re prepared to kill our babies. She’d listened to David Attenborough’s 2011 RSA President’s lecture about the problem of global over-population. Attenborough said all the problems facing our planet would be easier to solve if there were fewer people on it and yet the subject of over-population is almost totally taboo. Flett likened over-population to the growth of social and online media. The web may be almost infinite but the human attention span is not, she argued. What are we prepared to sacrifice to gain more peace and time to reflect, she asked?

It was a perfectly valid question. Until Like Minds organiser Scott Gould appeared on stage with his cute new baby daughter. Kill our babies? Flett ended up carrying the baby off into the wings while Gould continued chairing events.



Kate Figes

Author Kate Figes

September is a funny time for me.

It’s the month my mother died.

It’s the month my older daughter gets another year older.

It’s the month both girls go back to school.

It’s the month I always think I’ll turn over new leaves.

It’s the time of the year when we move.

We’re moving again at the end of October; the last time we moved, six years ago, it was mid-November; we bought our first flat in mid-October 1995.

This month I’m applying for a couple of jobs.

I’ve also had several days where I’ve been really short-tempered with the children.

The children, the older one especially, have often been very short-tempered with me.

We have had some lovely times when no one was in a bad mood. When I thought I’d found us somewhere to live from the end of October. When I realised how lucky we are to have a buyer for our house. When we all just enjoyed our lives and got along just fine.

Then there are other times when I wonder if we’re doing the right thing, moving away from the friends we’ve made in Somerset. We’re moving to Salisbury in Wiltshire to be nearer to my partner’s job and for a bit more life and culture for me and the girls.

We were on holiday in France until one day before the new term started. I was happy and sad to get back into the school/work routine. Happy because I like it when the girls are at school for some of the time and I don’t endlessly have to think of “things to do today”. Sad, because it was the end of a holiday in the warm, French air.

I have just read a blog post by Kate Figes. Her children are obviously older than mine (teenagers) and her post has a greater sense of imminent loss and departure, with just a few years to go until the children leave home to start their own adult lives.

September certainly feels like a time full of nostalgia and wistfulness. This is no way to start a new life in a new city.


How To Be A Woman

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman which is much better than my book, not least because she has actually written a book and not merely cobbled one together from her Twitterstream and various blog posts.

Moran’s book is also full of the sort of wisdom I was saving for my next book, the one where I tackle the day-to-day preoccupations of the average female and attempt to debunk a few myths in the process such as whether women always make nurturing, caring mothers. But Moran is a whole lot more frank about wanking than I would ever be so perhaps my work is done before it’s begun.

She also wrote things in How To Be A Woman that I’ve been thinking for years: men and women are human first and gendered objects second. We should see body image issues a whole load of bullshit. Don’t buy magazines if they make you feel inferior. Ditto, don’t watch “lifestyle” TV if it makes you feel crap.

I like Moran’s tests for sexism: “Are the men doing it?” whether it’s worrying about employing a cleaner or worrying about your waistline; and “Is it polite?” where it is treatment of a woman by anyone else.

So I recommend Moran’s book to women and men alike. But only if you buy my e-book first.


Not the News of the World

News of the WorldI am stunned that News International, the newspaper group owned by Rupert Murdoch, has decided to close its Sunday title and the biggest selling British paper the News of the World. I am not alone. Even when The Guardian revealed on Monday that News of the World journalists had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, no one was predicting the imminent closure of the paper.

Acres of words have already been written about the phone hacking scandal and I’m not in a position to add much to them. But I am deeply sceptical about the idea that neither Andy Coulson nor Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of the News of the World, knew their reporters were illegally hacking into people’s mobile phones.

By comparison to the NOTW I used to edit a lowly business publication. But the industry we published for took the paper seriously and so did we, the editorial staff. At Broadcast magazine I would never have run a major story without knowing exactly who or what the source of the story was. We might have dissembled to some readers about sources to protect them but we knew where each and every story had come from and we were confident that, if we were ever forced to stand by a story under oath, we could do so.

It is therefore “inconceivable” to me that Rebekah Brooks and/or her deputy and successor Andy Coulson didn’t know where stories came from on their paper. Coulson told a Parliamentary select committee he had no “recollection of any incidences where phone hacking took place”. Yesterday News International chairman and Rupert’s son James Murdoch said the NOTW had “made statements to Parliament without being in the possession of the full facts. This was wrong.” Coulson has today been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced two inquiries, one into the culture, ethics and practices of the British press and the other into the specific phone hacking charges to establish “what exactly was going on at the News of the World” and other papers. Like the rest of the country, I cannot wait to read the results. Perhaps they’ll be covered by a new Sunday paper, The Sun on Sunday?


Cath Kidston rules

Designer-branded taste

I like designer Cath Kidston‘s stuff as much as the next slightly shrill, middle class homeowner with 2.something kids. But I do occasionally bristle at the way so much of our personal taste has to be branded with the stamp of approval from a designer who we can all recognise and respect. It’s the ubiquity of the stuff that troubles me, however lovely it is to look at and use. I feel the same about Emma Bridgwater.

So I was intrigued to find out just how fussy Cath Kidston are as a firm about which third party shops are allowed to stock their stuff. According to a local gift shop which has just been granted permission to sell Cath Kidston products, you first have to provide details of the shop floor space, a picture of the shop inside and outside, pictures of the shops either side of the one that will be selling Cath Kidston things and say where in the shop the CK products will be displayed. You also can’t stock certain items which are reserved exclusively for Cath Kidston shops or their website.

All of which  shows just how manufactured and carefully constructed the Cath Kidston image is. If our local gift shop were next to the local tattoo parlour I doubt they would have become an outlet for the designer. Still, I have just bought some CK stripey napkins and polka dot cushions in the sale. There really is no accounting for taste.


A halfway point

Andrew Gold's Thank You For Being A Friend

I feel I ought to mark the fact I have just passed a sort of landmark in age. What’s it like being 40?

Of course, it’s no different to being 39. The passing of the day itself is neither here nor there; it’s the cumulative weeks, months and years that make a difference, often so incrementally as to be unnoticeable.

If anything, I’ve decided, 40 is a great age to be. As a friend said, you’re done with being old for your 30s and can start again at the beginning of a new decade, younger and more vigorous than all those getting to the end of their 40s or even entering their 50s.

As the cliche has it, you’re only as old as you feel. Age is a state of mind.

Naturally, one does have intimations of mortality in a way that you don’t when you’re 20. It hasn’t escaped my attention that Gerry Rafferty died aged 63, Andrew Gold died aged 59 and my own mother was just 60 when she died. None of us know what the future holds or, as my grandma once put it, “how long we’ve got” but 20 years left on the scorecard is a bit more galling than 40.

Then again, does it matter? Does it matter that someone dies at 59 or 60 if their best work is behind them, they’ve lived well and loved long? At this age I feel it really doesn’t matter. I have had a strong sense of seizing the day for several years now and am lucky that my life isn’t too full of stress but that’s been a personal choice. I urge others to aim for life in their days as well as days in their life. In the passage of time even Gerry Rafferty and Andrew Gold will barely register as blips in the human chapter of the universe’s story. I’d say the same about Mozart. An individual’s greatest impact is on immediate friends and family and who can say they are truly influenced by a great-grandfather or great-grandmother? Even personal influence extends only a few generations.

So here’s to the present and to modest aspirations for a good life. Although if there is another 20-something Andrew Gold out there waiting to be famous I’ll dance to his music.


Who wears the trousers?

Women account for 14% of small UK businesses

Men may still wear the trousers in the world of business, but do you know who chose them? According to Marks & Spencer, women make two thirds of purchasing decisions in menswear. Across the board, women make 80% of purchasing decisions.

This factoid demonstrating the power of women in the marketplace came out at a presentation at a Women in Rural Enterprise event in Somerset last week. Carolyn Currie spoke briefly about a scheme she runs for the Royal Bank of Scotland which aims to support women setting up and running their own enterprises.

Despite women’s dominance when it comes to purchasing, they are not surprisingly under-represented when it comes to running small businesses. Currie says women run just 14% of all small and medium sized enterprises in the country but they do contribute £130bn to the UK economy.

Just think what would happen to that £130bn economic figure if more women set up and ran small enterprises. With women constituting 52% of the population there is plenty of scope for us to increase our share of the small business sector.

One answer as to why more women aren’t more entrepreneurial may come from this statistic. One in five women is unemployed before setting up her own business. That compares to one in 15 men who go from unemployment to self-employment. It suggests a wave of previously stay-at-home women re-entering the workplace as self-employed.

But the times are against us. As predicted by the TUC in March, women are bearing the brunt of job cuts in the faltering economy. The Guardian reported last week that the number of women claiming unemployment benefit is at its highest level since 1996. More men than women are unemployed  but that’s because more men than women were working in the first place.

I don’t know why I find any of this surprising. It’s proof, not that I wanted it, of the continuing inequality between men and women when it comes to paid employment.


Kazuo Ishiguro on Never Let Me Go

Author Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is known as ‘Ish’ to his friends, as we learned from author Jonathan Coe at a film festival in Bridport, Dorset last night. Coe interviewed Ish, author of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go among others, on the opening night of the From Page to Screen festival before a screening of last year’s Never Let Me Go adaptation.

During the Q and A Ish was asked about the 1993 adaptation of Remains of the Day and he revealed that John Cleese was initially considered for the lead role as butler Mr Stevens which was eventually taken by Anthony Hopkins. Others in the frame were Jeremy Irons (understandable) and Bob Hoskins (“not quite right” in Ishiguro’s own words).

“I’ve always wondered what [the film] would have been like with John Cleese,” said Ish. “I was very excited by the idea.”

At the time Cleese was hot as far as Hollywood was concerned from the success of A Fish Called Wanda and, as Ish diplomatically explained, US studios such as Columbia Pictures (now Sony) which funded Remains of the Day can only ever think of about two or three British actors big enough to take the American stage.

Of watching both film adaptations of his own novels Ishiguro said: “I forgot very quickly that I already knew the story,” which seems to be about as big a compliment as he could pay to the screenwriters Ruth Prawer Jabhvala (Remains of the Day) and Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go). He said it would be “like taking your A’Levels again” and about as much fun for a novelist to adapt their own work for the screen.

This festival is all about film adaptations of the written word and Ishiguro had this to say: “As a culture we [the British] haven’t figured out how to watch adaptations from novels.” Coe wondered whether this is because we constantly compare the film to the novel and vice versa. Ish agreed and suggested that, like a songwriter with a tune, he enjoys seeing other people’s versions of his work but he doesn’t confuse it with his own work.

As for Never Let Me Go I am still confused by the message, if there is one, of both novel and film. In a final interior monologue the narrator Kathy wonders whether the young people raised to donate their organs to medical science live better or worse lives than those who are saved by their donations. Does this translate as, what is the point of living? It’s a question that lots of thinking people want answered and which a few answer in their own ways.