Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Battling the forces of darkness at Christmas

It was about this time last week that the lights went out.

They'd been flickering on and off for a while as the storm tantrumed like an overtired child before they finally gave up completely.

We were staying with my boyfriend's family at their farm in Sussex for Christmas.  We had a wood burner to keep us warm, a Rayburn to keep us fed and an abundance of piping hot water to keep us clean. All things considered we were in a pretty pucker position, especially compared to the thousands of other people across the country who had none of these things.

We also, however, had a hero in our midst.

Dave's dad.

The day before Christmas eve he unblocked the overflowing pond next to the farmhouse, to stem the rising flood in the cellar. Twice.  The second time he was up to his in neck in the pond (making the waders a somewhat pointless fashion accessory).

Later he put the freezer, which lives in the cellar, on stilts above the flood water when the rain refused to stop pouring down and the water continued to rise.

On Boxing day morning he fixed the leak in the internal water boiler which had burst in the (heavily over used) Rayburn,  before some of us (cough cough) had even got up.

But it was during second milking, on Christmas eve, he had what might be called a 'light bulb' moment.

By the power of a homemade generator, a cable with plugs at both ends (don't ask...) and sheer practical ingenuity, Dave's father was able to bring light back to dark places.

Over the course of the next few hours he worked tirelessly to hook the three households and the farm up to (some limited) power.

Christmas was saved.

It was during Christmas dinner (an evening affair on the farm as cows need to be milked twice daily whatever the occasion) that the power did come back on*.  A moment of respite for our hero?  Hell no.

Between desert and the cheeseboard Dave's dad went around to each of the houses, disconnected the generator and reconnected everyone to the mains power supply.

We watched Man of Steel when we got back to Bristol.  "Pfft," I say to you,  "Man of Steel, get back into your useless fantasy box".  Real life problem solving is much more impressive.

I really hope Dave's dad has a quieter new year however, cos even heroes need some time off.

Wishing you all a heroic and happy new year!

(*hurrah - a huge cheer for the folks out working on Christmas day to make this happen)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The 'Bring Back Christmas Cards' Campaign

As a teenager I thought my mother's annual Christmas card writing sessions were insane.


It seemed to me that a whole lot of energy was invested in writing basically the same stuff many many times over to a whole bunch of people you hardly ever see and therefore can hardly care anyhow about you or what you've got to say.  It was, in effect, an activity akin to the sort of 'writing lines' type of punishment doled out at school.

That said, my mother, who in all other activities in life was a big one for efficiency, did not believe in the typewritten 'newsletter' style of Christmas card writing.  Quite early on in life I knew the only response to a printed Christmas letter was to sneer.  That person had not put the blood, sweat and tears into the activity that my mum had.

She believed in handwritten, crafted, personalised letters, tailored to the individual.  And she knew a lot of individuals. It was a marathon, physical effort she put in, huffing and sighing over the cards, pausing from time to time to shake her weary, cramping hand throughout the exercise.

This year I have done the thing that every daughter fears.  I have become my mother.

But (valiantly trying to rescue myself from this admission and move us all along to another thought...tra la laaa...this way please) actually I believe the act of Christmas card 'giving and receiving' is becoming something of a dying art in our generation.  We're all 'elfing ourselves' at best or sending Merry Christmas texts and emails.  It's not even as though eCards have successfully taken over where Hallmark left off, and let's be honest, they're not so easy (or as nice) to put up on a bit of string around the sitting room.

So this year I decided to write Christmas cards because after we've all got over reviving vinyl and mixed tapes, I reckon Christmas cards are set to become the next retro 'must have' in everyones lives.

And actually it's been a revelation.  Firstly I've had to perform something of a 'data cleanse' as 30 - 40% of my address book is, at best, names and mobile phone numbers.  Secondly it turns out that it's really nice to write to people I haven't necessarily seen all year.  Like most people, most years, I've had a pretty mad one this year and haven't managed to move much out of the village that is Bristol to see people, or to generally stay in touch with folks as much as I would've liked.

Initially I intended to just dash off a 'To [insert name] [Insert greeting already published in card] Hope you have a super Christmas and New Year, much love...'.  Job done.  But I rapidly found myself writing a few more lines. And then, before I knew it, I was filling up most of the cards with writing. On both sides of the card!

It may have been noted that I huffed a bit and sighed slightly over the card writing.  I may even, from time to time, have stopped to shake my weary, cramping hand.

But reader, I enjoyed it, and I have every intention to do it again next year, to even more people, even if I don't get cards back because eventually everyone will get back on the Christmas-card-writing bandwagon I am sure...

Yes, you may now leave this blog and go 'elf yourself' (*argh, more mumisms...Help! Help!).

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Se7en Dwarves opens at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Se7en Dwarfs opened at The Wardrobe Theatre, St Michael’s Hill on Wednesday evening last week.
A cross between nineties Hollywood thriller Se7en and Disney’s version of the fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the show offers an original and darkly funny adult alternative to the standard seasonal pantomime.
Detective Sner White (Emma Keaveney-Roys), forced into early retirement three years ago, is called back into the police force for her insight into a gruesome new serial killer.
Like all the best cops, Sner White has a flawed personality.  Plagued by comparisons with Disney’s Snow White since childhood and thrown out by her mother when she was just 16 years old, Sner learned at a young age that she ‘had to grow a pair’.
White is a great character, a superbly performed horrible experience.  She is loud, obnoxious and sleep-deprived to the point that she is only just teetering on the right side of sanity (most of the time).
Visually stunning, her bright yellow flares, blue jumper, red bum bag, ebony hair, pale skin and deep red lipstick mirror the colours of her Disney counterpart as precisely as her personality opposes it.
Side-kick Bramley (Adam Blake) by contrast is the familiar, affable dull-witted foil to White, lacking her vision, and the ability to see the obvious.  Dressed in the standard trench coat and hat of a 1940s film noir detective Bramley’s performance is anything but beige, as he sets up and carries off some laugh out loud pieces with aplomb.
The plot is pacey, carried along by a good balance of dry humour and slapstick, and manages to twist neatly at the end.  The limitations of the performance space in terms of set, scene changes and size of cast is incorporated into the humour of the piece with dead guys moving themselves off stage and office chairs becoming convincing (enough) cars.
White’s struggle to repress her cartoon original’s desire to burst spontaneously into song is used to good effect throughout, however the ‘big singing number’ towards the end feels a little unnecessary and out of place.
Equally White is at times a bit too shouty and uses swear words so frequently their effect can be wearing.
That said, director Anna Girvan has created an exceptionally funny show that generates all the informality and chaos expected of a panto-esque production whilst also refreshing it. The use of popular culture references from the film Se7en, the fairy story of Snow White and the Disney cartoon is in keeping with the tradition as is the well-executed ability to take the irreverence of the genre to a more adult level.
The Wardrobe Theatre is a great alternative venue, situated above the White Bear pub.  The show runs for 1 hour 15 minutes and costs a mere £5 so is just the right side of affordable.  Performances are nightly until 22nd December.
Related links:
The Wardrobe Theatre: Se7en Dwarves

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

My Christmastide wish list

The thing that I am most looking forward to at the moment is what the Germans call 'zwischen den Jahren'.  This is the time in between Christmas and New Year, when all the hysteria of partying and present giving subsides.

It is a gentle, grey time, where days can flicker into brightness - sometimes even startling sunlight - for a few hours, before the horizon is once again soothed with tangerine strokes of settling colour.  A crisis of cerise and then the greedy darkness of the long night takes hold.

This margin of time feels magical to me.  The year that is just passing releases it's hold over us; the year to come has not quite started yet.  Here then is time without demand, a secret time, rarely planned and with so little expectation placed over it, anything is possible...

My favourite time to write is late at night.  It's not so much that I'm a night owl, rather that the demands of the day recede like an outgoing tide, leaving behind an empty beach of a page on which it's okay to make my mark without fear of letting someone else down by not doing the things I have promised them I will do.

The 'zwischen den Jahren' is like an extension of that.  It is a time for sleeping and reading and writing and taking walks out into the quieter-than-normal countryside.  A time for staring at the lights on the Christmas tree and talking lazily about nothing-very-much in front of a roaring fire whilst nursing a wee dram of whisky or a mug of tea.

All I really want for Christmas is a 'zwischen den Jahren'.  And the madness before that is more than a reasonable price to pay...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kicked into Perspective: Why taking a lunch break is really important whatever your job

I got kicked out this morning.

It was totally brutal.

Kicked out of my own flat, shoved out the door and told I couldn't come back for a couple of hours until I'd wandered around and had some 'Bectime'.

"BECTIME?!?!" I thought. "What the hell is Bectime at a time like this?!?  Term is ending, deadlines are looming, December is a horrifically short month business wise and He thinks I need Bectime?!?!"

The 'He' in question is of course my boyfriend.

Frustratingly, it looks like 'He' might just've been right.

Once out on the street I ambled down Cotham Hill.  I bought an advent candle.  Spent more money than I should've done in the Oxfam bookshop buying books really for me but with half a mind to Christmas presents (as a 'reasonable' excuse for frivolous spending).  I went to a cafe, ordered a pot of tea, wrote my journal, flicked through a magazine about Bristol, did some sewing of a gift I'm making for a friend.  I bought household essentials from Sainsbury's to get us through the next 24 hours and came home.

In that sort of saccharine way that you'll hate if you're a hater of hippie spiritual writings, it kind of turns out I brought something else home with me apart from dinner and some books.  Along the way I appear to have picked up Perspective.  And Perspective is starting to sprout a really calm and collected Plan.

One of the challenges of freelance/portfolio working (apart from dealing with it having a name like 'portfolio' working - I'm renaming it to 'patchwork working' I think) is that you don't really have a normal week.

I've been doing *something* work related - whether MA, business or barwork every day and night for about 10 days.  I'm not complaining (honest guv!) at all but I'm just staring down the barrel of proverbial truism that actually all work and no play leads to unimaginative, unproductive and cross procrastination rather than anything else.  On that basis it definitely makes sense to go take a break.

So wherever you are, whatever you're doing, my suggestion is that right now the best thing you can do for you, your employer, the people you care about in your life, your general mood/state of mind is to go put the kettle on, grab a chocolate hobnob and spend ten minutes doing something totally different.  I can't promise you what you'll do after that is going to be amazing but you'll feel less agitated/angry about it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Would you walk a mile in the shoes of an Amazon Warehouse worker?

In order to make ends meet at the moment I work behind a bar.

I enjoy the job. It's minimum wage, minimum responsibility.  It fits in pretty well with being a part-time student and with me starting up my own business.  It provides me with a bit of stable income and it's casual so I can (to some extent) dictate how often I work.

The hours are obviously anti-social and the work is rarely intellectually stimulating but so long as I'm busy that's the least of my worries.  I'm fortunate because the shifts aren't back-breakingly long. Ultimately I guess I'm there out of choice and (sorry team!) I don't imagine that I'll be there forever.

That's probably not the case if you work in an Amazon warehouse.  But to be fair, I really don't know.

What I do know is that menial work seems to be very unpopular in this country.

I was working with a woman from Ireland last night who was pretty damning in her critique of the English work ethic. She feels there is a tendency in this country to talk more about the work that needs doing rather than actually get on and do it.  She said she'd noticed that the phrases used in relation to work are pretty passive, e.g. 'I'll give it a go', 'I'll see what I can do'....

It's a point of view, rather than a definitive condemnation of course.  But I'm interested, reading the Amazon 'expose' on the BBC website earlier today, to understand what it is we actually want in this country in terms of work.  According to the article Amazon have invested £1bn in the country and created 5,000 new permanent jobs.  We want work, right?  Just not that kind of work I guess.

A dear friend of mine believes that this country is being run down precisely in order that it can become the packing factory of the west.  He may well be right.  Although for my money I think that credits 'the powers that be' with more control and ability to direct things than I suspect they really have.

My trouble is this - we (collectively as a nation) want 'stuff' for hardly any money at all.  And that's the root of the issue.

We're happy to pay two pounds for a tee-shirt, to buy one-get-one-free at the supermarket or to buy our books and whatnot online significantly cheaper than we can at the bookstore down the road but then, on the other hand, we think it's outrageous if people (in our own country...) are being made to work ten and a half hour shifts and walk eleven miles (which by the way is the extreme rather than the median measurement) during their working day/night.

Here's the thing.  Every cheap item of clothing or jewellery or food that you buy I can promise you someone somewhere down the supply chain got shafted.  They may or may not live or work in this country but that doesn't mean they are not being done over and in a way that is equal to or much worse than working in conditions which 'increase the risk of mental illness'.

I'm not saying it's okay the way that Amazon workers are treated.  I'm not saying it's okay to live in a country which accepts that there is a distinction between a 'minimum wage' and a 'living wage', but I am saying that whilst we buy cheap all of us are buying into and condoning a system which is doing people over. Globally.

So, workers of the world unite?

Well, yes.  But whilst we're at it could somebody please work out an economic plan in which the world functions without it being that we simply push out all the work we disapprove of being passed onto another nation, another person, elsewhere in the world....?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The One Direction edition (also known as the late edition...)

I went to Devon this weekend to hang out with my sister and her family.

We were having one of those communal moments in the sitting room.  The TV was on in the background.  My sister was in the kitchen shouting through conversation to me whilst making dinner.  My nephew was on the iPad mini with his headphones on chuckling at funnies on YouTube.  My boyfriend and niece were respectively on their phones - Dave was reading news coverage whilst my niece was inhabiting the twittersphere.

In the melee of noise it emerged that my niece had over 1,800 followers on twitter.  We were all impressed.  Nonchalantly she declared she was aiming for 2,000 by Monday.

As we chatted over the next few minutes my nephew, released momentarily from headphones, kept up a running commentary as his sister got another new follower; two new followers, another new follower, and another one.

"I've only got about 50" he grumbled.

Meantime I'm texting a buddy of mine who is in the throes of setting up her own new soon-to-be super viral empire of money saving tips.  Knowing that Mrs Mummypenny would be as impressed as I am by my nieces numbers I ran them past her.

"How is she doing that?!" exclaimed the text back.  I asked the twitter princess the secret to her success. She shrugged demurely.  She can be a girl of few words my niece.  But words worth following apparently.

Her key interest is music.  She loves One Direction.  So do nearly all of her 1,800 twitter followers.  "Liam[1D band member for the uninitiated]'s mum just accepted my friend request on facebook" she announces.  I'm doubtful of the validity of this but who knows, anything is possible with social media right?

This is her third or fourth twitter account.  She's moved identities a couple of times, as a way of abandoning unsympathetic followers.  At school no one is really into 1D in the way she is so the internet enables her to connect with people who share her interests.

Staggeringly she's only had her account for about three months.  I've had mine much longer and thought 145 followers was pretty decent.  @MrsMummyPenny's been up and running and actively getting her name out for the past 4 months and is also in the 125 area.

We're still discussing the phenomena that is my nieces twitter account over dinner.  My nephew announces that a guy he knew at school got 100,000 followers and then sold his twitter account for £200.

My journalistic sense twitches a bit as I write that - I can't validate the who of the boy, whether he really had 100,000 followers and my nephew didn't know who the guy had sold his twitter account onto. Consequently I share it with you purely as an anecdote.  I kind of feel bad for the boy too, if it is true, because £200 sounds to me like he was ripped off.

I'm interested though, my niece and nephew are part of a generation that knows how to work twitter.  They totally get target markets and how to generate a community of followers instinctively.  As Mrs Mummypenny was saying, it could well be worth getting my niece to work her account for her.  I'm guessing marketeers are already all over this but I wonder what is going on in terms of people buying and selling their twitter accounts.  More research required.

We got home, later than intended, on Sunday evening, thanks to the traumas of car ownership.  Around 8pm I get a text from my sister.

"H just hit her 2000 followers!"

....beating her Monday morning deadline.

Interestingly she isn't driven by ego in this hunt for numbers. Frustratingly for her twitter wouldn't let her follow more than 2,000 people UNTIL she had 2,000 followers apparently.  Who knew?

By the by, H and her followers are all gearing up for 1D Day coming up on Saturday.  I note this as a way of feeling less Machiavellian for calling this the One Direction issue....

Monday, 11 November 2013

The three rules of blogging and surviving a university semester

I mentioned last week that I'd broken the three rules of blogging.

I honestly can't quite remember the rules now which inevitably means I'm breaking them all over again.

Anyhow, the one I do remember is that a blog entry 'should be useful to others'.

I'm mid-semester on the Journalism MA at the moment and I think we're all starting to feel the strain a little bit.  One of our cohort has dropped out entirely.  I've certainly had a weepy moment.  Others have been knocked sideways by illnesses personally or within the family.  The usual stuff of life.

None of us really know the extent to which other people are coping or suffering or bounding blithely through the sunshine filled grasses of further education (or anything else for that matter...) but any which way my 'useful' offering of the week is to share some advice a very dear friend of mine was given some years ago whilst undertaking her undergraduate degree.

My friend had a number of essay deadlines looming and, despite being a committed and enthusiastic student, admitted fretfully that she hadn't made a start on any of them and was staring down the dark tunnel of paralysis that comes at the foot of such a mountain of work.

The first piece of advice she was given was, to be frank, very northern:

"You can only do what you can do"

It was a bit of an anticlimax I imagine.  I think she'd been looking for something a bit more 'whizz-bangy', something that would help get her motivated.

She persisted however, earnestly explaining that whilst she was grateful for the advice given, that it may well be true and everything, she was still faced with impending deadlines and the fact that she hadn't done anything at all as yet on any of the work.  To which she received the following response:

"You just have to make a start"

I offer these up in my blog this week because they tend to be amongst the things I think about when I start to panic about large blocks of work ahead of me.

They might not be the most useful words you've read but I can guarantee because of the simplicity of them, as well as the goodly common sense they contain, they will almost certainly come back to you when you're in the middle of a pink funk.  Or whatever colour you call your moments of mild panic when you're not quite sure how you're going to get through whatever is ahead of you.

I hope the blog police, with their three rules of blogging, will be pleased to see that I have made some attempt to adhere to at least one of them....Oh and just for your information my friend actually did get all her essays in on time, having made a start and done what she could do.  She even got some pretty good grades for them too.  So sometimes there is a happily ever after.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Dark Space Remains - FINAL NIGHT at the Wardrobe Theatre

Frankie is an outsider.

On that basis he has kept himself locked inside a room, inside photographs, inside a time that has past.

Better to be inside, where it’s safe.  With the devil you know.

DarkStuff Productions latest show ‘Dark Space Remains’ is a story of three friends Franklin (Frankie), Lizzie and James. Having grown up together, hung out together, got drunk together, their lives at one point seemed inseparably entwined.

Frankie is the friend that never grew up, that never moved on from endlessly getting wasted even when the people weren’t there to get wasted with. When we meet him, he is flicking through images of the past, drinking vodka, looking for answers.

The activity of the play is moved onwards as Frankie stumbles through a narration flicking from photograph to photograph.

Everything within the piece is about containment.  The Wardrobe theatre is ‘cosy’ and director Dom Rowe uses the constraints of the venue to best effect – for example when Lizzie realises she is in a room surrounded by pictures of herself the claustrophobia of the moment is intimately felt.

Using the actors to represent the still photographs that Frankie ponders over by ‘framing’ them in white rectangles is also an effective containment device.  It enables the audience to ‘see’ what Frankie is seeing: to him these aren’t just images, they are real people.  By giving us a still image which then activates to play out the rest of the scene we become as engaged and committed to these people as Frankie.

For a moment his friends are there with him.  We exist together in their shared past.  But, like Frankie, we can't actually reach out and touch them; they melt instantly into images contained by the edges of the photograph, tantalising but ultimately two dimensional, beyond him and us.

‘Dark Space Remains’ captures life in snapshots - understood and shared in images posed for.  The language between the friends echoes this theme – the three use a shorthand of half finished sentences and looks.

This is the first original script for while from writer-producer team Phil John and Simon Williams who more recently have worked on successful adaptations of Sleepy Hollow and Moby Dick. However their ability to find and potentially to define the modern gothic is evidenced in this show which indirectly reflects the way in which our understanding of ourselves and our relationships with each other and with events we attend is ultimately experienced through images recorded via social media.

For one more night only ‘Dark Space Remains’ is yours for the viewing at The Wardrobe Theatre, Cotham – tickets £5.00.  No photographs though….

Monday, 4 November 2013

Freelance Writing: One Month in...

What I've learned:

1) Everything takes longer than you hope
2) I love working from home
3) I love working on websites
4) My worry about not being able to pay the bills made me take some really bad decisions in terms of other work I agreed to
5) I am likely to fail at some things
6) I am likely to succeed at somethings
7) Which is (5) and which is (6) is not altogether clear at this stage
8) Many of my friends appear to be juggling much more than me, much more effectively - but I'm okay with that
9) My attitude is becoming 'bad' in the way historically reserved for the 'cool' girls when you're 15 years old. I am not 15....
10) Everything takes longer than you hope

By the end of month one I wanted a website.  I have a 'holding page' which doesn't work on some versions of internet explorer (feel free to let me know if yours is one such!) please have a look at www.ridley-writes.co.uk.

By the end of month one I wanted to have a rhythm of working on my MA, bar work and working on writing.  I remember a friend of mine wanting something similar a month in to having her first baby.  We were both idealistic in our goals.

By the end of month one - I have two clients.  I have a holding page.  I have a much clearer idea of what I do (and what I don't) want to do.  I have a much greater sense of value and worth of my time and understand I should give it away for free a lot more carefully.

And I know this blog post fails on all of the 'three rules' of blogging.

But all of that is okay.  This is, after all, only month one.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Watching season four of the Walking Dead, writing stories, and reading course materials....

The Walking Dead TV series is back.

There was a period of time earlier this year when my existence was measured out in episodes of the Walking Dead.  My housemates and I would ‘reward’ ourselves at the end of an evening with a shot of pure horror.

I was scared from the first episode of the first series.  Needing to resolve that fear, to get to the ‘happy ever after’ kept me tuning in. 

I have spent many episodes watching parts of the show from behind my hands, my head buried in a cushion, with one eye peeking out.

I’ve spent a lot of the heart racing 45 minutes shouting at the stupidity of the characters.  I’ve made some bad calls on staying up to watch ‘just one more’ rather than going to bed to get a good nights sleep – all in the insatiable search for resolution. 

I’ve been angry at the show for breaking all the rules, giving us too many characters, none of whom we can relate to terribly easily and then, just when we think we’re established with someone – bam (or more like sucking blood type noise and the gnawing of flesh amid screams) they are dead.  And then dangerously undead.  *Shudder*

By the end of season three I became hardened to zombies and to endless zombie death.  Scenes that only weeks earlier would have had me diving for cover and wanting but not wanting to see the horror unfold I now sat through quite brazenly. I was even able to critique whether or not they were ‘good’ zombies from a makeup, costume and acting point of view.

Imagine my horror – forgive the pun – moments into settling down to watch season four this week* to discover that I really didn’t want to watch it.

The Fear was back.  My heart pounding, my palms sweaty, my brain reeling from the realisation that this universe had not gone away, that there were still people trapped in this world.  I was back to hiding my head in cushions again.

Watching the Walking Dead is exhausting.  I invest an enormous amount of emotional energy working out what I would do in the same situation whenever any of the characters find themselves faced with life or death. 

To be fair, my emotional engagement in most things is pretty intense. I remember a friend finding me with tears streaming down my face as I read a biography on Virginia Woolf a few years ago.  She stopped by to ask if I was okay and was pretty stunned when I looked up and croaked, ‘Virginia Woolf just died’.

But that is the beauty of a story that works.  I’ve been compulsively reading a novel (this is bad on at least three counts – (i) that it may have distracted me from more academic reading this weekend; (ii) that  (i) is why generally I ban myself from novel reading in term time and (iii) because it was……a bodice ripper, another darned historical novel – shhhhh!). 

For the sake of my grades at least I have, thankfully, finally finished it. But again what drew me back and back was that I hated, literally hated, one of the main characters.  He was a thorough ‘bad un’ and my leading lady was behaving in a way I thought was really rather pathetic (as well as unethical). 

Wanting resolution, wanting the universe to be set right was again the driving force behind my addictive pattern of reading.

Much of my own writing tends to be character rather than plot led.  This can mean I spend forever wondering around in a universe with someone who is quite lovely and complicated but doesn’t really have anything to do.  Unsurprisingly I lose interest in him/her, decide my idea is rubbish and move on. 

With my latest revelation from the weekend I think I’m going to challenge myself in the next few weeks to write each next paragraph in an opposing direction – make the character do the thing I least like/least want them to do and see what happens.

This is after, of course, I have caught up on all my university reading…

(*apologies to @bdesignforge – really happy to watch it again with you?!?  Stew and popcorn and whatnot included!)

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Stigmatism of Loneliness in the UK

BBC poll last week suggested that half the adults in the UK experience a significant sense of loneliness some or all of the time.

A blog was posted on facebook several times last week by various friends of mine.  '7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook' was as dull and cynical as it sounds.  And long.  Really long.

To summarise, 'waitbutwhy' suggested that there were seven deadly 'status' sins committed on facebook.  People posting these statuses were categorised as being motivated by one or more of the following: narcissism, image crafting, the wish to induce jealousy, attention seeking/craving and loneliness.

I felt quite sad at this categorisation of people, especially the sense of criticising people for being lonely.

Listening to Clare Balding's Good Morning Sunday show on Radio 2, she raised the issue that being alone is stigmatised in the UK.  This is strange given that a third of us now live alone, whether through choice or circumstance.

My mum was widowed when she was in her mid 50s.  She married my dad when she was 19.  She had no idea how to exist without her other half.  I don't mean she wasn't socially and economically capable but emotionally, spiritually her heart wasn't in it.  What was the point if my dad wasn't there.

It took her nearly ten years to get the point, to get comfortable with living again.

She felt the stigma of being a woman on her own.  She felt people weren't interested, as if her right to exist was now called into question.  With bereavement comes the sense of being a burden on everyone.

She found a route through her loneliness, which involved all the things that make up life for everyone - through friends, through family, through a job, activities in the local community, through radio and television.

I lived with my mum for a few months a couple of years ago.  My head was full of my own exciting and changing life. I would run in and out of the house much like teenagers are fabled to do only probably with more attitude, cos, like, I'm an adult right?

One evening I was dashing through the house, running to get a cuppa and go to my room to log back on and respond to some emails that my 'important' job 'needed' me to attend to when I suddenly stopped.  I got us both drinks and sat down on the sofa opposite mum.

She looked shocked that I didn't have to go do something else. She looked pleased that I had chosen to sit down and chat, to ask questions, to engage with her as a friend, keen to know her thoughts and share opinions.

Our relationship changed that day.  There was something in that look, in the almost grateful reaction to my having the time that provided an unflattering mirror on myself.

I'm still pretty rubbish at being at and staying in touch with my family and my friends, especially face to face, but I know how important it is and I strive to be better at it.

We're sociable creatures, even the more solitary ones amongst us, and loneliness is not something we should be criticising people for.  Maybe people making those 'sinful' facebook status updates want attention, maybe they are lonely, maybe they feel they've failed in life and want to show a better image of themselves.

I'm not sure why showing it on facebook is any different really to demonstrating those things in real life, barring the medium.  That and the fact you've accepted their friend request/the ability to see everything that is posted on their wall.  In which case, who really is the narcissist?

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sex, lies and audio-tapes: From journalism school to press regulation...

I'm heading out shortly to talk to a guy I already interviewed last week.  This time I intend to do the whole audio interview with the 'record' function set to 'on'.

'Devastated' might loosely describe my reaction when I got home on Thursday to discover that all bar one second of my conversation with the head of Cotham school had not in fact registered on the recording equipment.

It's been a bit of week for mistakes.  To help with making the ends meet/paying the rent, I am currently working part-time behind a bar.  Last night the takings were £75.00 down.  We hunted high and low.  I refused to go home till the situation was resolved.  Imagine my horror when I discovered it was due to my 'careful' - and forgotten - placement of a float in a tidied away corner that was causing all the chaos.  I'll confess to a mixed reaction when I found the bags of coins and notes.  Firstly, relief, the problem was solved.  Secondly, utter embarrassment at my mistake.

Fortunately you can't die of embarrassment.  The only wound is to your pride.

I've been thinking a lot about errors and mistakes in light of the Leveson Inquiry and the subsequent all-party agreement reached last week on the draft Royal Charter, which will go on to form the basis of a system of press regulation in the UK.

As part of my masters in Journalism we have been looking at Media, Law and Ethics.  Last week we had to put together our own charter in class.  We came up with a lot of stuff that could be boiled down into something like; 'we should behave like responsible human beings who act both humanely and within the law'.

We fluffed it up with some specifics about being accurate in our reporting and balanced in the arguments we presented.  We talked about being 'professional' and one girl in the class suggested there should be a ruling that says we should support and encourage ethical behaviour in our colleagues.  We're a nice bunch of people.  You wouldn't have expected anything else from us really.

The two mistakes I've mentioned in the past week could be put down to all sorts of things but in reality they simply come down to being human and therefore fallible.

Ethically however I could've made some very different choices - I could have, for example, got my boyfriend to pretend to be the headmaster in a mock up version of the interview (it was an audio assignment for class after all, who would know?).  I could have placed the freshly discovered money somewhere else so that it looked as though the cock up belonged to someone else.

I didn't, quite simply, because to do so would've been WRONG.  And I don't need a ten point code to tell me that either of those actions would be wrong, I just know.

So what on earth happens to all these nice, well-intentioned people when they leave 'journalism school' and hit the industry?

In another module, Multimedia Journalism, we are learning about all sorts of interesting tech to help us record and edit stories for radio broadcast.  A couple of weeks ago our lecturer played us an audio clip of a relatively dull phone interview about Morris dancers.  To a person I think we all thought - "ooooh, that clip would be better with the sound of some jangly Morris dancers in the background".  We even ventured to find out if using a bit of canned audio for that would be acceptable?  No, not really, was the response.  And really, really, I think we knew that.  But you can see how the simple 'sexing up' of quite an innocent report is only a hop, skip and playground jump to the deadly league of editing for effect rather than editing for accuracy.

Some of it boils down to the lack of clarity about what the purpose of a journalist is I suspect.  We are there to report, to provide factual information that is in the public interest. We're also there to do so in an engaging and potentially even entertaining way.

At the University of the West of England the MA Journalism course is situated within the School of Creative Industries.

This is probably because we have to use all the funky packages that creative types do to make our stories and programmes.  And of course because that's what we're doing, we're telling stories. Truthfully, or as close to that nirvana as you can get hopefully, but stories nonetheless.

In my high-minded idealistic way of looking at the world, I think that as journalists we're here to ask questions that otherwise might go unasked and unanswered, especially of people in authority and those who have financial and/or political control.  We're also here to give voice to the people whose stories might otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by dint of their position in society.

My summary seems somehow to fall short of the mark, to languish in miserable puddles of naivety and inexactitude.  It goes nowhere near figuring out what the problem is within the industry that has caused so much pain and needs so much discussion around the idea of regulation (let alone around the implementation of regulation itself).  The best I can do at this stage is hope that whilst as a group we strengthen in our ability to the job outlined above, my MA cohort and I don't harden to do so in a way that would horrify our current student selves and go against our inherent sense of what is right.  Only time will tell....

Monday, 7 October 2013

Week Two Tarnish: Writing up, writing down, writing all around

Week two.  The boyfriend is working from home this morning.  He's months away from finishing his PhD which means that he's in a key phase of procrastination.

I'm not for an instant saying that drawing up graphs to explain his new approach to deconvolution techniques (don't ask, though I can show you a picture...) is not important or necessary but as yet his thesis word count is a big fat zero.

Writing is always the difficult part - and this turns out to be true even if you are a writer.  In the past week I've had a number of successes - including getting my first signed up client - but I have failed on that all important task of getting my own website up and running.  Ironic, given that one of the services I provide is getting content written for clients' websites....

Just as my boyfriend knows what needs to be written, I know what I want to say, how I want the pages laid out and I've some pretty good ideas about the images I want to use on the site.  A very lovely friend of mine has even created me a logo (useful last week for sending out proposals to prospects). There's just always other 'stuff' that seems to take priority.

I fallen into a reading world of historical dramas at the moment - yes, the infamous bodice rippers that I have for years looked upon with disdain.

To be fair my latest read The Virgin's Lover is written by Philippa Gregory, a woman who wrote her first novel whilst undertaking her PhD in eighteenth century literature.  Here then is the role model I need - a person for whom (novel) writing is the form her procrastination takes to distract her from (thesis) writing.

Anyhow, my point in raising The Virgin's Lover is that I was quite taken by a conversation between Dudley (the Master of the Queen's horse) and the young and recently crowned Elizabeth that:

'The lesser joys, the more ignoble pleasures, are those that take a man or a woman's time, make demands.  The finer things, true love or a spiritual life between a man and his God, these are the things that are driven out by the day to day.'

Elizabeth agrees and Dudley goes on to say that for her to be an extraordinary queen she has to choose the best, every day, without compromise, over and above the ordinary which clamours for time and attention.

Procrastination is older than time itself probably.  Ack, I can feel the physicist boyfriend getting ready to argue with me about that.  Time to go talk to a website developer about the design and content of a client website then....

Monday, 30 September 2013

The new girl 'first day' experience

So, this is it.  The safety is Off.

No more trekking into the office.  No more 'working for someone', no more 'wage slave'.

Nope, I haven't won the lottery that I don't play, married a millionaire or taken over a dark, lurid and lucrative drugs cartel.

This is in fact my first day as a freelance writer.  I am a pen for hire.

The glamour of it kills me.  I slept till I woke this morning (not something I intend to do every morning but it felt necessary to mark this Monday with a treat).  I had coffee brought to me in bed.  After listening to the woes of the world via the Today programme I read a few pages of a novel.

It's not all glamour though.  I've been sat at my desk for over an hour trying to fulfil a promise to myself to start each day writing 'something' - be that blog, journal, article or short story - only to face down constant interruptions from the boyfriend:

"do you want a coffee babs?"
"are we going to have a sit down and a chat before I head off?"
"oh, you're working now aren't you?" (snigger)

Followed by 7 separate occasions in which he has 'presented' himself desk-side to inform me that he is now going to work.  SEVEN.  The front door has finally banged shut.

Where on earth was I?

Oh yes.  The Plan.  In a moment I'll pop the kettle on and settle down to write two copywriting/content marketing proposals to two potential clients.  I've a list of financial 'stuff' type jobs to do, some prep work for my Journalism MA and a catch-up-cuppa with a mate of mine who's disappearing off to Thailand again the day after tomorrow.

That's the immediate plan. My broader vision is to earn a living telling stories.

They'll range from corporate stories, helping people to tell their tales to the wider world on the web and via emarketing campaigns through to news worthy local stories, investigative pieces, lifestyle columns and reviews on plays and books I've seen and read.  I will also be writing and publishing short stories, plays and a sprinkling of poetry.

It probably doesn't sound very focused.

I've been warned if you want to be 'successful' you have to be really focused. You have to have a really clear niche market all figured out already.  You probably need to start day one with a website already up and running and a couple of clients lined up.  You should have your finances worked out really carefully and know exactly how it's all going to add up, how the ends, as such, are going to meet.

As it happens I haven't done any of those things.  The intention was there but, well, that really never seems to be the way things happen for me, neatly planned and all in a row. Does it work that way for anybody?  I'm not sure.

What I do know is I'm here now and I plan to turn up at the page each morning and see what unfolds.  Any which way, I'll keep you posted.....

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Persistence of Memory - by Alison Farina (and Salvadore Dali....)

There are two reasons why you should go see Alison Farina’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’.

The first is to see Mneme (played by Meghan Leslie), the muse of memory, sent to aid and ease professor Dante DeLucca’s descent into dementia.

She is quite literally divine.  She is everything a deity (albeit minor) should be. Elevated above mere mortals as the audience enter and settle, Mneme sits graceful and statuesque on top of the bookcase ladder for what must feel like an eternity.  Yet once the show begins she is personable and playful in her connection with both the audience and Dante. Nibbling chocolate whilst observing the mortals, joking with the audience and sensitively portraying scenes from Dante’s life with his wife – she is effortlessly engaged and engaging.

The second reason to see it is the emotional truth at the centre of the piece: that we are the sum total of our memories and without them our bodies are mere empty shells. 

Dante’s recognition and response to that realisation and his daughter Iphee’s devotion to her father despite her own life being less than perfect are believably painful portrayals of a situation no one wants to be faced with.  The story is told with gentle humour and sensitivity.

Playing at the Alma Tavern, Bristol, Saturday 14th September and the Rondo Theatre Bath, frin 29th September.