Why I wrote such a highly personal piece
Posted May 20th, 2013.
On Saturday I had a piece in the Guardian about how devastated I was when the former love of my life died. Even though he left me 30 years ago for someone else, it still hit me like a train when he became terminally ill then died.
It was obviously a very personal piece to write and a difficult one. Why do it? Why not just lick my wounds in secret as I did all those years ago when he left? Why invade my own privacy in this way?
Because this time I didn’t have to suffer alone. This time I decided to share my experience as I was fairly sure others would have been through something similar and sharing really does help. As indeed has proved to be case as the piece garnered a number of warm responsive comments and I’ve also had quite a few private messages about it.
Back when I was left alone I only cried alone. I never cried in front of or with friends. Or family. I painted a smile on my face and quite literally decided to grin and bear it, hey, I’m okay! One of those things let’s get on with life.
This isn’t a very good idea. If you don’t let people know you’re hurting how can they help? Or make allowances. My insistence that I was fine all those years ago made it far harder to deal with because I was splitting myself in two: the me I thought others wanted to see and the me I really was.
I was working on a newspaper at the time of my big breakup. And though there were a few other female reporters, it tended then to be a very masculine environment. You didn’t show you hurt over something. You hid it, put on tough outer armoury. News reporters don’t cry.
But I often wanted to cry when I worked as a reporter. The worst times were covering inquests when small children or babies had died. I’d sit there biting my pen doing my best to be the professional I was supposed to be. Don’t get upset. It’s not your job to get upset.
Quite right too. But we’re people aren’t we? How can you cover inquests, deaths, tragedies and other horrors and not feel sad?
This is maybe why when I finished my newspaper training I went straight into magazines where it’s okay to be touchy feely! De rigueur even. I recall early on in my magazine writing career a features editor telling me about one of their top real life writers who, she said, “Got in there and really cried with them”.
I shrank back in horror. Oh I could never do that! Guess what? I did. Only once mind and I felt just dreadful about it. How very unprofessional I thought it was and chided myself for it horribly. I was interviewing a family who’d lost their son in Bosnia. I apologised profusely. I don’t think they minded. It was an arranged interview better, I think, than the “death knock” though that isn’t necessarily insensitive.
Making up for before
Maybe I wrote so openly about my former love dying because I’d held so much back when we broke up? Making up for the past perhaps. Who knows. It did help though. But it’s now a few weeks since I wrote the piece and several months since he died. I’ve moved on. I’m lucky that I can. Maybe I’d have moved on a lot quicker 30 years ago if I’d allowed myself to express the gut-wrenching pain I was going through? Who knows. You can’t go back. You can’t change how you dealt with something in the past.
It’s okay to hurt sometimes. Everybody does. Ask REM.
I make the cover of a magazine!
Posted April 24th, 2013.
So I’ve been a journalist now, woman and girl, for more than 30 years, much of that time writing for magazines as they were always my first love, print wise. Used to dream of being able to buy magazines when I was a child so writing for them was quite a big step up.
In all the time I’ve written for magazines though, I’ve never made the entire cover! I’ve had loads of “sells” – those short, snappy, sentences on the covers that tell you what goodies are inside, urging you to buy. Hence the word sells! But never a cover devoted to MY story!
When the editor told me he was going to use my piece on the cover I assumed he meant it would be one of the sells. Which was great.
I had no idea I’d be the lead story and be the entire cover! Truly terrific too to know that an illustrator was commissioned, and paid, to draw something suitable to accompany my feature. That’s one of the loveliest feelings going. I used to love the cartoons Guardian Work commissioned to go with my features there. Can’t draw for toffee so much respect to those who can.
The feature appears in this week’s Big Issue in the North and it’s all about how opposites attract. How couples can be happy despite having wildly different world views, such as a Labour supporter married to a Tory! Not something I could ever contemplate but seems some couples can rise above politics. Love conquers all?
Anyway hope I didn’t fool anyone into thinking it was my picture on the front of a magazine. That I would truly hate! Fine for those who make their living that way. No criticism intended. But words is my game. And it was my words – this feature was my idea – that made the cover.
I’ve still got it!
Equality in new NHS could be set back years says outgoing Equalities lead
Posted March 15th, 2013.
I thought getting my client Shahnaz Ali into the Guardian’s Hideously Diverse column two weeks ago would be my last shout for her. After working with Shahnaz and NHS North West for more than four years, my comms contract has to come to an end as The NHS is closing all the Strategic Health Authorities in precisely two weeks’ time.
But turns out there was a final flaring of the candle before it finally burnt out.
This week I got Shahnaz into the HSJ, The Health Service Journal read by all healthcare leaders. This is the last thing I was able to do for her and I’m so pleased as here she is talking about the risk the new NHS runs of setting back equality work decades.
Shahnaz talks about the vital role equality plays in targetting healthcare to the demographics of the population being served. Of how an assumed one-size-fits-all regime simply won’t work. Of the sterling work she and her team have done at NHS North West leading the field in pioneering new work recognising how important equality and diversity is if you want to reach everyone. And the NHS is, let’s remember, supposed to be for everyone.
Last Thursday Shahnaz collected her OBE from The Princess Royal at Buckingham Palace. In a couple of weeks she’s collecting something else. Her P45. This hugely talented, experienced, able woman is being discarded as the NHS returns to being snow-capped and run mostly by middle-aged white men. Never mind the appalling injustice of this. How about the dreadful waste? Our taxpayers money will be used to pension Shahnaz off when it could be put to much better use keeping her hired, keeping her talent and making sure the NHS delivers healthcare everywhere, not just to those most able to access it.
It’s a very sad turn of events. It’s also a highly retrograde step which I believe will be regretted. And probably overturned too. We can but hope.
Failed former Tory leader also failed novelist
Posted March 14th, 2013.
Evil Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, currently chucking people out onto the street with his vile bedroom tax and about to oversee worst shambles ever with the Universal Credit – you just wait! – has failed many many times before.
Back in the early Noughties, he tried to get a novel published. It went the rounds of agents many of whom fell about laughing and sent it straight back to him. When he became leader of the Tory Party – for all of about five minutes – a small publisher picked it up thinking his fame would make them their fortune.
It didn’t. The booked bombed and rightly so. It was apparently unmitigated shite. John Redwood – another Tory failure who couldn’t even become leader of the shambolic shower trying to run the country – is also an author. Kind of. Friend told me this week, “I bought one of John Redwood’s books for 10p. The market works.”
Loving how I live 200 miles away from Westminster and yet am still being able to file gossip pieces about the place to the nationals.
What will IDS fail at next? Let’s see now, failed Tory leader, failed novelist and now utterly useless and incompetent Work and Pensions Secretary – his multi-million pound schemes to get people back to work have LESS success than if the unemployed were left alone to find their own jobs.
Still never mind Iain. Not like you’re ever going to be poor is it? And you’re a Christian, I’ve heard. Wonder what Jesus would say about your attitudes towards the poor…
Was it betrayal for BME woman to accept OBE?
Posted March 4th, 2013
My client Shahnaz Ali, the head of Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights at NHS North West, received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list last year. But was it right for a woman from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background to accept an OBE? The word Empire in the award is problematic for some people from minority backgrounds.
Shahnaz didn’t just accept the award. She gave it a lot of thought before saying yes to a trip to the Palace. As most of us probably know, you don’t just get these awards in the post. You are asked first if you would be prepared to accept one if it is offered. And usually you’re aware that colleagues have put your name forward.
Some people from BME backgrounds do turn down these awards because they feel to say yes may give the impression that they accept the British Empire – with all that implies about conquer and colonialism – was a good thing.
Shahnaz said yes however because she felt as a BME woman without a huge profile that to decline it would make no impact whatsoever. Accepting it however very much does. She wanted this debate and, oh boy, did she get one!
The Guardian’s diary editor Hugh Muir, who writes the hideously diverse column in G2 of the Guardian every Monday, was very interested in Shahnaz’s thought processes around this. I’ve offered stories and ideas to Hugh before but I was particularly pleased when he took this one up and included Shahnaz in his popular, well-read column.
It clearly struck a chord as there were 367 comments below the article; almost a record. It’s very gratifying to see how many people felt strongly about this issue and were moved to join in the debate.
Sadly this may well be the last piece of work I am able to do for Shahnaz as NHS North West is closing at the end of the month, part of the government’s major reorganisation of the health service. I’ve been working for them now for more than four years, almost as long as the Equality and Diversity department has been in operation. It’ll be a great sadness to me to leave this worthwhile work behind. But I like to feel that much has been accomplished by them and by Shahnaz in particular. I hope some way is found for the NHS to capitalise on her huge contribution, knowledge, energy, enthusiasm and experience though right now, that doesn’t look like happening. Three weeks after Shahnaz gets her gong, she’s also getting her P45!
I’ll be moving on to pastures new soon but I’ll always look back with great fondness at the lovely people I worked with at NHS North West and all that was achieved in its relatively short life.
Shahnaz goes to the Palace this Thursday, March 7th, to collect her gong.
Are affairs at work inevitable?
Posted February 14th, 2013
Following on from Piers Morgan’s revelation on Twitter that Torvil and Dean did get it together back in 1984 during the Winter Olympics, I was invited onto the Jeremy Vine show today on BBC Radio 2 to discuss whether affairs at work are inevitable. Nice topic for discussion on Valentine’s Day!
Naturally I came out with a definitive answer. It depends.
Affairs are such strange creatures. Sometimes they lead to lasting love and sometimes they’re just a quick fumble in the back of a Cortina. And everything in between. One thing is always constant though. They are HELL if you’re the one left behind. When I worked as a Relate counsellor many was the time a client said to me of a spouse departing for someone else: “I wish he/she had died! That wouldn’t have hurt so much.”
Primitive fears of rejection
Rejection goes to the very core of our being. It’s the one thing, whether we know this consciously or not, that all humans fear. Because as babies we are entirely helpless and dependent upon our chief caregiver not rejecting us. If they do, well, maybe someone else may take over. But the fear of not surviving as a result of rejection is buried deep within. That’s why babies and toddlers smile at strangers. It’s partly imitation – for who can resist smiling at a cute baby? But it’s also a deeply calculated primeval response. A baby’s smile says, “You take care of me if no one else can.”
The fear of rejection stays with us as adults. How you cope and move on – if you can move on – has a lot to do with how secure you felt as a child. This is why jealousy is such an incredibly potent emotion and potentially so destructive. Unlike it’s cousin envy, which is one of the seven deadly sins, jealousy is an emotion and we need a certain amount of it for if you feel no jealousy towards your beloved, do you care at all? But too much can destroy your love.
Anyway, affairs at work, inevitable? No. They can be resisted. That they aren’t may be because Cupid’s arrow suddenly struck so hard, there was nothing the participants could do about it. But I think that’s just in third-rate romances, bad films and great songs. Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa is a truly terrific song written by the fabulous Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
I hate to do this to you
But I love somebody new.
Hal David could sure write it but it hardly ever happens like that. Solid marriages and relationships aren’t vulnerable to affairs but love on the rocks might be. If your partner has to work away from home a lot or with someone for whom you fear they feel a growing attraction, it doesn’t automatically mean they’ll have an affair. Not if your love is strong. That’s my take.
I was glad when I heard Torvil and Dean had got it on because so many of us at the time assumed and hoped they would. I’ve no idea if they had other partners at the time though. If they did, that for many of us puts a whole new slant on it. Well, it did for Jeremy Vine and me today. My bit should be cued in but if not item starts at just after 1.41 minutes.
My first short story is published today.
Posted February 7th, 2013.
Today is Publication Day for me. I may never have another so am going to milk and enjoy this as much as I can. Besides, you can’t beat your first fiction sale!
My story appears in Take a Break Fiction Feast on page 32 and it’s called Ground Control to Mum. I love it! Not the title I gave it but half the fun of seeing your work appear in print is what title it’s given. Also the changes the sub-editor made. Here’s a tip for anyone wanting to write fiction: don’t bother to say your character’s gone into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. Just put the glass in her hand!
That’s probably a bit of a rookie mistake and it’s odd being a rookie after so long in the business but it’s also nice taking up a new form of writing – or trying to! It’s by no means easy to write short stories, or fiction of any kind. Yet lots of people want to do it. Probably more than ever right now.
Creative writing courses abound and in fact it’s probably easier, for some, to make a living teaching creative writing than being a creative writer! I’ve never tried one of those courses – yet! – but I did get brilliant help with some of my stories from romantic fiction author Sue Moorcroft who as well as writing lots of lovely novels tutors in creative writing. Sometimes you need that little bit of help.
Also seeing how a story is edited is immensely helpful. The advice given by all creative writing tutors is to read read read. Study your market. Well if you want to be a creative writer, that’s something you should be enjoying anyway. Fortunately I do. My weekends are now spent reading stories, studying them, working out how they’re put together. And then I try to do it myself.
For the time being I’ll remain a weekend creative writer. I’ll need a few more sales before I can convince myself that this is something I can do as part of my living as a writer. But it’s great fun trying.
Do give it a go if you want to. There’s tons of advice and help out there. And even if you don’t manage to get published, it is great fun creating characters and putting them into awkward, difficult and even impossible situations Then getting them out.
Plus creative writing really is the very best therapy. Have some problems you need to escape from? Or just a bit bored? Nothing on the telly? Go create something yourself instead!
My first short story sale
Posted February 4th, 2013
I have a guest blog up on the womag site today talking my recent short story sale to Take a Break Fiction Feast and the concerns I have about being a one-hit wonder.
Only just broken into this new market but hope it’s the start of something regular. Though unlike articles, you don’t pitch ideas and hope to get commissioned. You have to write the whole thing, print it, put it into a large envelope with an sae and post it. All rather quaint but quite nice actually. Rather democratic. All short story writers start this way though some magazines will let you submit by email once they’ve accepted one of your stories.
If you’ve ever fancied having a go at writing fiction, short stories are a great way to start. Much less time and emotional investment than for a novel and great fun too. It’s lovely making stuff up after years of chasing people for quotes and trying to come up with ideas for features and articles. Now I can just write them, send them out there and hope a fiction editor will like them.
I’d really like this to be a new income stream but we’ll see. At the moment, it’s something I only let myself do at weekends so I’m not using work time. It’s also a nice time to write fiction as we’re inevitably more relaxed at weekends with far fewer interruptions. Do check out the womag site if you fancy yourself as a short story writer for women’s magazines. There are lots of lovely tips and it’s a really warm, friendly and welcoming crowd.
After so long in the business, it’s nice to find a new outlet for my writing and a new crowd to share it with.
Equality in healthcare is vital for patient experience
Posted February 1st, 2013
When you go to see your doctor, or are admitted to hospital, or you’re the friend, spouse, parent or relative of someone needing treatment, the best possible care is what matters most. Equality in healthcare provision goes to the very heart of the patient experience, safety and compliance.
Doctors and healthcare professionals need to treat the person in the room, not some imaginary template patient. Everyone is different. And everyone has different healthcare needs. This is why equality and diversity is a vital issue in the National Health Service.
My client Shahnaz Ali, lead at NHS North West in Equality and Diversity, and her team understand this and have worked tirelessly to try to ensure everyone on their patch receives the care and understanding for their own specific needs.
Today Shahnaz has written a piece for the Guardian’s healthcare professional network about her role as a leader in this field. A role for which she was awarded an OBE in the most recent New Year’s Honours list.
My Big Fat Giant Aunt Blog
Posted January 29th, 2013
As you may have noticed, I’ve added a new page to my website. Called Giant Aunt Diet blog. From this I will be blogging on a daily basis starting this Friday, February 1st, about my new Paleo-style of eating, under the tutelage of nutritionist Loren Grant.
I’ll be following a high protein regime which cuts out processed carbs. Quite an adjustment for me as I love bread and pasta! But for 28 days, ie the whole of February, I’ll be giving them up along with cakes, pastries, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, milk, sugar and toast. However, I’ll be taking up a much kinder way of eating. Kinder to my metabolism and body. Better for my blood glucose levels. And ultimately with the aim of staving off diabetes.
I grew up in a house with diabetes – my Dad had it, not the house! And my maternal gran had it too. Neither of them controlled it well and I’ve seen the damage it can do. Being more than three stone/20kilos overweight puts me at risk of developing diabetes and I had a big scarce earlier this year that I had become diabetic. Fortunately I dodged the bullet yet again. But I’m not playing with fire any longer.
Why isn’t the blog opened up for comments? Because while I’m a bit of a geek and nerdy enough to upload a website regularly I can’t for the life of me work out how to add the comment facility. Sorry if you want to comment. I’ll try to sort it later down the line but didn’t want that to stop me from starting the blog same day as I start the diet.
Hope it’s useful for anyone facing the same problems. I promise to be blisteringly honest.
It could have been a wake – but it wasn’t!
Posted January 21st, 2013
But one SHA – my client NHS North West – has made sure that it’s many achievements while in existence will not be forgotten. To that end, a wonderful celebration of all that the Equality and Diversity team at NHS North West has achieved was held on December 3rd. Called Excellence in Equality a memory of this wonderful day (written by me) has now been added to the Health Equality Library Portal – itself an innovation of the Equalities department and its innovative work.
That day could so easily have been a wake. It was very far from it. The hope is that by recording all the achievements made by the ambitious Equalities Team, the work will continue in the newly-reorganised NHS.
Shahnaz Ali, leader of the Equality Department at NHS North West, had her achievements recognised in the New Year’s Honours List when she was awarded an OBE for her work. Shahnaz is determined that though her department will be closed in March, the work she began will carry on. Shahnaz is quite a pioneer in her field but she has many working years ahead of her. It goes on.
Reading novels makes criminals less likely to reoffend
Posted December 6th, 2012
How can reading help prisoners to become rehabilitated? Less likely to reoffend on release? Well seems it can as the prison reading group project run by Roehampton University and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council has discovered.
I was commissioned by the research council to write about this and it was without doubt one of the most fascinating and interesting assignments I’ve ever had. I visited the reading group at Wandsworth Prison, run by Roehampton University, and it was unlike any other book club – as they’re also sometimes called – I’d ever been to.
A prison librarian I quote in the piece I wrote says reading groups in prisons are much more interesting than those outside because views vary so incredibly widely. Anyone who loves reading and belongs to a reading group will know that the one thing you really want is lively discussion and disagreement about a book choice. Not much fun if everyone loves it or hates it. Or no one has read it! In prison reading groups there’s a far wider diversity of opinion. And a bluntness too that’s refreshing and useful for a writer!
I was also lucky enough to be able to attend the event at The University of Roehampton that celebrated three years of running this project so met prison librarians and volunteers from across the country who’d been involved in it. Their enthusiasm and pleasure in their work was incredibly energising. Author Jake Arnott was there too, saying how much he enjoyed visiting prisoners’ reading groups, and why.
One of the loveliest aspects of being a freelance writer, often available at the drop of a hat, is that you sometimes get asked to cover events and assignments that are a real pleasure and bring enormous satisfaction. This was one of those assignments.
If you want to know more about how reading, and especially reading novels and memoirs, can help prisoners to change – and thus how it ultimately helps us all as everyone wants offending rates to go down – do please read my piece about this on the Arts and Humanities website
Feelings grow over so-called mutual merger
Posted November 22nd, 2012
As promised in an earlier post, the link to my piece about the so-called merger between the Coop Bank and the Britannia Building Society which ran in the Big Issue in the North is now available online.
Since we went to press the local paper in Leek has announced a further set of redundancies at the town’s former largest employer. This comes at a time when a new supermarket, Sainsbury’s, is due to open early next year, creating 350 new jobs. However these are unlikely to be of the same status, pay and prospects as a job at what was the country’s second largest mutual building society.
Nothing wrong with working in a shop. And many people will be grateful for the jobs brought to the town by Sainsbury’s. But they add to the sense of Leek becoming on the one hand a dormitory town from where people commute to jobs in the Potteries, Birmingham, Manchester and Derby. And on the other hand a place of low-waged low-skilled work. A town needs professional jobs with the higher wages that go with it.
Coming to you live from Leek’s crazy crossing
Posted November 14th, 2012
So, I’ve been in the business for about 35 years now. Worked as a reporter man and boy, woman and girl. Covered just about everything including football despite like most girls, many boys and certainly all referees not understanding the offside rule. (Your team is never offside, the other team always is works for me).
But I’ve never reported live on a radio station. Been a guest, yes, many times and in fact earlier today I discussed the very serious issue ofmental illness with Adrian Goldberg on BBC’s WM Radio in Birmingham.
Never though have I been asked to be a reporter live on air. That changed today. The Jeremy Vine Show, on which I am a regular guest, asked me to report live from the scene that is causing mayhem in the town where I live, Leek. People are being cut down; well, falling over, chaos is ensuing as only chaos can and all because of a weirdly-designed pedestrian crossing that is staggered with a long island in the middle of the road.
I reported live from the scene and despite a local councillor saying it was safe and fine, I watched people crossing the road the wrong way. Something that has our county council (which is responsible) so worried that they are going to start teaching people how to cross the road. I kid you not. I am not making this up.
Why we needed a staggered crossing is beyond me. It’s highly confusing. There is no green man opposite and no, as Jeremy pointed out, beeps as the lights go green. I suspect some designer who works 30 miles away in Stafford and spends his or her life (probably a him though) in front of a computer all the time is responsible. This person doesn’t live in Leek and never goes to Leek. Yet they are responsible for inflicting a truly stupidly-designed pedestrian crossing in the busiest part of the town.
I’m laying bets it’ll have to be changed or modified in some way. Watch this space!
Where will Cameron get his new model army from?
Posted November 8th, 2012
Today our Prime Minister launched a scheme to recruit a million volunteers to help people suffering with dementia. This came either after or before (so many volunteers wanted, so hard to tell which scheme they’re being recruited for) the announcement that the Ministry of Defence is also planning a big recruitment drive. For the Army. To make up for all the cuts, it will double the size of the Territorial Army (free labour) and rebrand it Cameron’s New Model Army That Works For Free.
Does Cameron imagine that everyone like him and most of his cabinet has a private income? Thus giving them simply oodles of time on their hands to volunteer to look after dementia sufferers or help the defence of this country?
On BBC Breakfast this morning there was yet another item about taxpaying citizens doing jobs once done by public servants. In an item about bike theft, it was suggested we should all be much more vigilant and report it to the police. While the police sit in front of computers just waiting for our call! Or email. Or heck, these days you can probably text or tweet at them.
Anyway, speaking of tweets which is why I’m here. My response to Cameron’s ludicrous latest idea about recruiting a million volunteers to take care of people with dementia while he dismantles the much-loved National Health Service that is supposed to look after the sick got picked up by the Guardian’s Society Daily bulletin and posted.
I asked where he imagines all these volunteers would come from. As it happens, I tweeted it directly to Number Ten as well. You can do that you know. Though why anyone would isn’t so that Number Ten can see it – they really don’t care what anyone thinks. It’s so your followers can. And you never know, it might end up appearing on a national newspaper’s daily bulletin.
Growing up poor in stockbroker Surrey
Posted November 5th, 2012
Pondering on my freelance life recently it occurred to me that this highly insecure way of making a living, the inevitable ups and downs in income, the never knowing if you’ll be in work after your next piece appears, suits me for a very good reason. It’s all I’ve ever known.
Many people are finding the transition to the insecure working world very difficult and I don’t blame them. For years people were encouraged to, as The Byrds sung, sell your soul to the company. Now many are told this world doesn’t want them anymore. Insecurity is the new normal. We must be flexible, available when we’re wanted, disappear without fuss when we’re not.
What better preparation for this than my rollercoaster childhood where the only certainty was uncertainty? I now realise, as I write in this Guardian piece, that growing up insecure and poor was actually a great grounding. The ground never shifts beneath me since it’s never really been there in the first place.
That’s not to say growing up poor and insecure is a wonderful thing. It’s not. But I did have emotional security. And that IS a wonderful thing and it’s not rated highly enough. Certainly wasn’t by me at the time. But least I finally realised what a truly valuable, precious, thing this was. And how much longer that kind of security lasts than the baubles and trinkets a financially secure upbringing gives you.
It’s also perfect background for a journalist. I grew up in an ostensibly middle class home. A bog standard semi-detached suburban in Surrey. But the insecurity of my father’s unreliable working life meant I often felt, still do feel, very working class. A foot in both camps and neither. So ideally placed to understand either. I hope!
Received some lovely warm personal messages after the piece appeared which proves the point that the personal while not universal is definitely not unique. It gave great comfort to me to know others had been through something similar. I hope I too gave comfort. It’s always good to read something that affirms you’re not alone. You weren’t the only one.
Feeling’s not mutual in Leek
Posted November 1st, 2012
I have a piece in this week’s Big Issue in the North about the merger between the Cooperative Bank – your caring sharing Co-op – and the Britannia Building Society.
The piece quotes several people who are very critical of this move. Many former and current Britannia employees and members, it is claimed, have lost out as a result of this merger. Quite a few are calling it a takeover, not a joining of two mutuals.
It’s greatly feared that the lovely small market town of Leek has lost out. The Britannia has always been a large employer in the pretty little Moorlands town but as well as providing much-needed and necessary employment, it also offered career ladders and good-quality well-paid professional jobs. Such jobs aren’t just beneficial for the those lucky enough to have them. They benefited the rest of the town since small economies always flourish when there’s a decent percentage of professional jobs.
Those well-paid workers spend their money in the town so produce more employment. Now it’s feared all the best jobs will move to Manchester where the Coop is based and Leek will be left with low-paid low-skilled work which doesn’t leave enough over for the kind of discretionary spend that boosts local economies.
For example, there used to be several people employed in the public relations department at the Britannia in Leek. Now these jobs have gone with the PR function being handled entirely in Manchester. It’s a scaled down version of what’s happened in much of the rest of the UK. Small towns need professional employment!
The piece isn’t available online yet but I’ll post a link when it goes up. Meanwhile as well as buying the magazine in print form you can now buy it in digital form as well – street sellers can offer a digital card for £2 that gives you access to the magazine online.
The piece appears in issue No. 951 29 October – 4 November, 2012.
Depression: a must-have accessory?
Posted October 30th.
I took part in a BBC 5 Live phone-in on Tuesday October 30th from 9-10am about mental illness and the stupid stupid stupid comments by Janet Street Porter about depression being a desirable illness de nos jours. Here’s a bit of free advice our Janet: if you don’t know what you’re talking about (and you clearly don’t) then don’t talk about it! I received many warm thank you messages for my contribution which begins here 47 minutes in but the whole programme is well worth listening to. It’s available for seven days.
In it Nicky Campbell asks: Are we too quick to dismiss depression? This follows on from Labour leader Ed Miliband saying mental illness is the “biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age”. He criticised people who joke about mental health problems and quoted Jeremy Clarkson’s remarks about suicidal people and Janet Street Porter, who said depression was the latest must-have accessory. Tell that to our greatest war hero Sir Winston Churchill who famously called his deep dark bouts of depression Black Dog.
I disclose on the programme my own battles with mental illness though I regard myself as very lucky never to have faced depression (it’s anxiety and nerves that plague me). But I know depression exists, it’s real and it’s as debilitating as some physical illnesses. At its most extreme, it’s potentially lethal as some sufferers simply can’t cope any longer so take their lives. Funny kind of accessory Janet. But she’s long since passed the point of proper journalism has our Janet, if indeed she ever had any right to describe herself as such. Now she’s just another tiresome rent-a-quote trying to say something as extreme as she can to get column inches. She even takes a pop at the lovely novelist Marian Keyes in her Daily Mail article about depression. Yes that’s right Janet, the utterly adorable terrific writer and hugely popular Marian Keyes definitely chose depression as an accessory!
Clarkson is the same. He gets up half an hour earlier than the rest of us every day to give him more time to work out who’s he’s going to piss off this time for cash. It’s not journalism guys. It’s just being a pub bore and getting paid for it.
For the record, I only ever agree to radio bookings like this if it’s something I believe in and for which I feel I can make a valuable, useful, contribution. I’m not a gob for rent who’ll say anything to get airplay. Anyway if you have been, thanks for listening.
Playing the blame game
Posted October 22nd, 2012
As promised in my last entry, my piece about scapegoating is now online. Called The Blame Game it talks about why politicians love to point a finger at various vulnerable groups and blame them for all the ills that beset us.
Right now, as I write, they’re doing it to housing benefit claimants, ignoring the fact that a staggering 86 per cent of recipients are in work. And not, as our first class train carriage loving but second class ticket buying chancellor would have it, those who live life with the blinds down as they sleep while the rest of us go out to work.
It’s easy, perhaps lazy even, to draw comparisons with the 1930s when similarly tough economic times caused by rich bankers were blamed on those who had nothing to do with it. But as a Jew, my antennae are perhaps inevitably attuned to this vicious kind of finger pointing. Is the rising hate crime against people with disabilities, reported on tonight’s Channel 4 News, a coincidence or related to the scapegoating they’ve faced by this government?
It’s important to stress and go on stressing that the unemployed, disabled, public sector workers and benefit claimants did NOT cause the financial crash in 2007 and 2008. Unregulated bankers acting like drunks in a casino playing with other people’s money did. And how much longer can this shambles of a so-called government go on blaming the last government for the crash? A crash which began with the sub-prime crisis in America.
You can even play scapegoating bingo if you like. Try to spot every time a rich politician who’s never had to worry about paying the bills, blames our economic woes on the poorest, the weakest and those who have the least. If you’ve got the liver for it, you could even try a drinking game – but don’t do it if you plan to drive or operate heavy machinery!
Why politicians love a scapegoat
Posted September 10th, 2012
I have a piece in The Big Issue in the North No 943, all about scapegoating and why you hear politicians doing so much of it. Also how to recognise it, why we should fight like stink to stop their vicious divide and rule and how it all started.
The piece isn’t yet online but when it goes up, I’ll post a link. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite here are the opening paragraphs. The piece is called The Blame Game and illustrates how even Bob Diamond and Margaret Thatcher are scapegoats!
Pointing a finger at vulnerable groups – or even countries – is a feature of this tough economic age. But scapegoating goes back to biblical times and it’s no surprise that politicians are so keen to divide and rule.
The Bart Simpson defence “I didn’t do it” is funny because it’s something few fail to recognise. When asked as children if we did something we know we shouldn’t, it’s almost a reflex to say, no, we didn’t. Rare is the honest child automatically owning up. But if denial is the first line of defence, the second is invariably “they made me do it!” with a finger pointed firmly at someone else.
If you have a car accident, it’s someone else’s fault. It can’t possibly be yours. Owning up to mistakes is tough and most of us will do almost anything to avoid it. How much more comforting to find an easy target upon which to lay all the blame! It’s their fault – that lot over there.
Is Twitter left wing?
Posted August 22nd, 2012
Do left-wingers naturally gravitate towards Twitter? Is the net more left wing than right or does it just seem that way?
As someone who is still very new to Twitter the question began to intrigue me the evening Eddie Mair first did Newsnight. He received a rapturous reception on Twitter. But one of his guests, the right wing Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, was showered in abuse.
I didn’t just glean this from my timeline, ie the tweets of those I follow. The hashtags for Newsnights, Eddie Mair and Littlewood all revealed the same thing. Then I read a blog post by Peter Hitchens, who identifies as a moral and social Conservative, rather than right-winger, and he said people on Twitter often behaved like an electronic left-wing mob.
Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore also wrote on her Facebook page recently that she found Twitter tended to be left wing and that people only followed those they agreed with.
I thought this might make an interesting blog so pitched it to the Guardian Technology Editor. But he wanted more – bless him! Told me to see if there was any evidence for these claims rather than just opinion. Well, turns out there was.
If you want to know what academic research has discovered about politics and online users, read my piece in the Guardian here. It made the front page of the paper’s website and generated an enormous amount of comment. Which is always gratifying.
My tribute to Cosmo founder Helen Gurley Brown
Posted August 14th, 2012
Cosmopolitan came into my life sometime in 1973, around the time I started my first serious relationship that lasted for the rest of that fabulous decade. The magazine was a must-read for me and I bought it religiously every month.
It’s often thought the big sell for Cosmo was it’s sex advice. And while it’s true each month had an article about some aspect of the physical side of love, it always had much more besides. There were articles on careers, education, make-up, fashion, health and even politics. Cosmo had a news editor too! Imagine that in today’s celebrity and shopping soaked magazines that pass for so-called reading material.
Cosmo was aimed at intelligent women and encouraged us to be the best we could. So I was very sad to learn of the death of its founder Helen Gurley Brown. And pleasantly surprised by the warmth of tributes all over Twitter and Facebook.
I went onto BBC Radio 2 today to discuss what Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmo meant for me and my generation – well, some of my generation. My interview on the programme is here. It should be cued in but if not, it starts just before 1.09 minutes in. It’s available for just seven days from today.
Olympics aftermath – join in incontinent gushfest or leave the country!
Posted August 13th, 2012
I was asked to take part in a post-Olympic discussion on BBC Radio Stoke this morning as they wanted someone who didn’t join in the gushfest. Someone who felt a little differently. Because that’s what’s always made this country great, right? That we’re allowed to express our differences. That we have much-valued and frequently fought for freedom of speech.
Seems not. Someone on the panel took exception to my refusal to join the gushers and said, “I think you should leave the country.”
So there you have it. The gushfest has grown into such a monster that if you dare to disagree, you should leave the country. Or maybe kill yourself, as I suggested to my detractor?
I did enjoy some of the Olympics – the sporting bits that is. The overwhelming, ridiculous overhype and the almost blanket news blackout by the BBC is precisely why I didn’t want the games to come here. All my fears came true. It was almost as if you weren’t allowed not to be happy, not be joyous, not to cheering and dancing and yelling and screaming.
Is it just me or is mass hysteria the most frightening thing in the world? Especially now?
The item is here and it’s cued in but in case that doesn’t work, my bit starts at 2.40 mins.
Are we fed up of the Olympics before it’s even started?
Posted July 27th, 2012
I was on BBC Radio Stoke today Friday July 27th discussing, among other matters, the Olympics and if we’re sick of the hype and overkill before it’s even started.
Also discussed was the omnishambles that is George Osborne’s chancellorship following contraction in the economy for third quarter in a row. Way to go George, our work experience chancellor as former treasury minister Lord Oakeshott called him.
This link should be cued in but if not it starts at about 2.02 into the programme.
Old asylums – social history on your doorstep
Posted July 10th, 2012
Here is the link to my piece in The Big Issue in the North about the old asylums that are positive storehouses of social history. You may even have one near where you live or work. But in many cases, you wouldn’t know it.
These huge usually Victorian imposing redbrick buildings have now mostly been turned into housing, though sadly not the kind of social housing this country is desperately crying out for. No. It’s housing for the wealthiest. Luxury flats and apartments behind high walls. Gated ghettoes for the rich rather than the mad.
The loss of these public buildings to private pockets is something that I believe we will come to regret as the incidence of mental illness increases during the recession and draconian austerity continues to be forced upon a population already reeling from years of depressed wages and rising prices.
They are lost to us now because they stood on very valuable land. But many were sold for a song. And they haven’t been replaced by so-called care in the community. Because mostly, the community doesn’t care. Instead, you’re far more likely to end up in prison if you have a mental health problem than hospital.
Seems unbelievable but in some ways, the Victorians were more caring towards the mentally ill than we are now in the 21st century. Sometimes it seems this country for all its supposed technological progress is actually going backwards.
Should roundabout be saved?
Posted June 26th, 2012
This is the most hyper local item I’ve worked on in sometime! Should Leek roundabout be saved? (It’s a bit late for that actually as half of it’s already been demolished as I type and the other half will go soon).
But it made its way onto BBC Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine show today, with Vanessa Feltz depping for him.
I’m in favour of the development that means the roundabout has to go because a major new supermarket – all right, as we’re not on the BBC now – Sainsbury’s is about to come to town. And it’s about time too! What took you so long Sainsbury’s? I’m tired of having to drive a 20-mile round trip to get to my nearest one.
Anyway, major ructions in the town because of it. Roundabout is a heritage site. Apparently. However it’s not safe and hasn’t been for a while. Wagons often have to drive over the pavement to negotiate the awkward crossroads and traffic lights will be better and much safer.
It’s been a bit tent city there recently with protesters camping out like they’re occupying the grounds of St. Paul’s! Surely if you want to campaign over something – and I’m all for campaigning – there are much better more important issues than a roundabout?
Hear me say more about this here. The item starts 1.47 minutes in though it should be cued up.
Could I tweet for you too?
Posted June 26th, 2012
Many executives are today expected to be writers too. Often they’ve received no training for this, no warning and have little or no experience of how to write for a wider audience beyond their peers and colleagues. That’s where I come in.
In last few months several companies and individual business people have approached me asking me to write various material for them. Often it’s to maintain and keep up their social media presence. This takes time – time many of them do not have. So it makes perfect sense to get a professional to do it for them. What would take them hours, if not days, takes me minutes. Spread throughout the day, I can keep up a client’s social media presence and relieve them of the burden to keep checking, keep tweeting, keep posting.
As a consummate user and early adopter of social media, this is work I’ve found rewarding, enjoyable and very worthwhile. I liken it to “throwing my voice” – ghosting material in the way my clients would’ve written or said it. If only they had the time.
Social media can be fun but it’s also an added pressure in our already frantically busy working lives. Because you’re expected to be there. Expected to engage. But in a fun amusing way so that your tweets and blogs, get read, retweeted, shared and you gain followers. It takes time to build up a profile and it takes patience. It doesn’t happen overnight and you can’t expect instant results.
But slowly building your online presence, nurturing it kindly, taking care of it like a well-loved pet will boost your profile.
I am good at doing this for others because I love doing it for myself. I always tell clients not to go barging into social media yelling about themselves or their products. You wouldn’t walk into a crowded party or busy pub and shout I’M HERE LISTEN TO ME!! would you? Online chat really isn’t all that different. Listen first, see what other people are saying and offer your tweets or posts as a gift, not a sales patter. I’m often most impressed by the comedians on Twitter who happily give away their material to make people laugh and make their days just that bit more enjoyable.
You don’t have to be a professional comedian though to do this. It’s fine to find funny stuff and retweet it, just as you’d share a good joke you heard among friends. Of course being amusing online is a taut tightrope for companies to walk. But it can be done and I’m the one to do it for you. I guarantee you total discretion – we ghosts never reveal ourselves outside a Robert Harris novel! So get in touch if you need your online profile boosted. I’m loving this work, I’d love to do more and I’d love to tweet for you too.
In the meantime, here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian about how to boost your online profile. Do it yourself by all means if you have the time and the inclination. If not, give me a call. I’d love to hear from you.
Parents should argue with their teenage kids
Posted June 25th, 2012
I was on the BBC Radio Wales programme Something Else on Sunday June 24th talking about why parents should argue with their teenage children.
Apparently, according to newspaper reports out last week, it’s good for both parents and kids. Helps the teenagers to learn negotiation skills and helps the parents to understand and respect their kids more.
I think any relationship where there is an absence of rowing is suspect. Nothing and no one is ever THAT perfect. Dissent is inevitable. It should be voiced.
The item is here and starts 14 minutes in.
The former madhouses in our midst
Posted June 22nd, 2012
They were society’s way of banishing people and many became little more than massive dumping grounds. But the huge asylums that used to feature so strongly on northern landscapes also offered a refuge, of sorts, for many. Now most have closed, where do those who would’ve once been cared for there go? Usually to the streets. Or prison.
If you’ve ever wondered why our prison population has exploded quite so much in the last two decades, your answer’s right there in the shut down asylums which have now mostly been turned into luxury and often gated housing.
Only the rich can afford the kind of asylum once given to the mentally ill. We used to fear these places – fear going there. Fear what was inside them. Fear even walking past them. Now hired 24-hour security will rush you away if you peep too closely as high railinged gates gently part to let a BMW or Mercedes swish through the long drive.
See what you think in my piece about this in The Big Issue in the North, no 932.
Posted May 28th, 2012
It’s really hard to fire someone these days isn’t it? Actually, not so much…
My piece in the Guardian about what to do after you’ve been fired shows that getting sacked in the UK is far more common than is often supposed. And far from it being difficult to fire people in this country, it’s very easy and getting easier!
Now the government wants to make it even more easy to fire people. Is this a good thing? Would it help our economy – or hinder it still further? Surely in the 21st century, with a mature economy, we need a bit more nuance and mutual understanding in the workplace rather than a return to Victorian values of hire and fire at will?
Read the piece here and see what you think! It’s my tiny contribution towards the debate around employment rights. Why not make yours too?
Why Twitter put me on the naughty step
Posted May 3rd, 2012
I admit it took me a while to get Twitter. I couldn’t see the point. And the more people went on about how you absolutely HAD to be on it, the more I dug in and insisted that I didn’t!
Then I discovered that my articles were being tweeted and discussed on there. Which was very flattering. Maybe I was missing out on something? I decided to give it a go. But I went in a bit too enthusiastically and the result was that I got suspended! Like a naughty schoolchild, I wasn’t allowed to play anymore.
I could only stare through the screen and see others having fun. After many years contributing to online forums – often very stridently – I had never been banned before. I appealed and, well, if you want to know what happened next, I’ve written a blog about it for the Guardian’s Technology section.
And if you want to follow me, I’m now back Twittering away so maybe see you over there sometime?
Childless woman regrets abortion at 18
Posted April 27th, 2012
I featured on the Jeremy Vine show on Thursday April 26th just after 12.30pm discussing abortions, regrets and being childless.
This followed the very moving article by Kate Spicer: I’m childless at 42 and haunted by the baby I aborted at 18. Kate fears her teenage pregnancy and subsequent abortion may turn out to be the sum total of her reproductive history.
Yet Kate – very bravely in my view – doesn’t say it was the wrong decision for her to have an abortion. Like many women who fall pregnant in their teens, she knew she wasn’t ready to have a baby. There wasn’t any question of her taking a different route. There wasn’t a decision to be made. She had no choice.
Do we care about The Olympics?
Posted April 23rd, 2012
Has The Olympics become so commercialised that it’s lost its true meaning? Is it a festival of sport or a festival of branding, marketing, money and logo policing?
I took the latter view and when I took part in a panel discussion on BBC Radio Stoke on Friday April 20th we had a pretty healthy debate about it.
Also discussed was family histories, circuses, the Grand National, the trial in Norway of Anders Breivik and whether children should be given alcohol by their parents. Got tons in. Well worth hearing – especially some of the dodgy family skeletons that emerged!
My sleeping pill comment gets high rating!
Posted April 18th, 2012
As well as being quoted in yesterday’s Mail piece about the use of Zopiclone to help me sleep, my comment below the line has received a high rating by readers. (Click on most rated to see my comment).
I’m very pleased about this as there is so much mis-information, fear and prejudice around the use of sleeping pills.
I still maintain that used wisely, well and correctly, and with your doctor’s approval, they can keep you healthier and certainly far happier than sleep deprivation.
Sleeping pills keep me sane!
Posted April 17th, 2012
I am quoted in today’s article in the Daily Mail about how sleeping tablets don’t necessarily make you die – or give you cancer!
A recent study found people taking sleeping pills had up to a five times higher risk of death. And those given the highest doses had a 35 per cent increased risk of a major cancer.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal and caused quite a stir. Especially among Zopiclone users such as myself. I take these pills about once a week when I need to sleep and yet the Zeds just won’t come. I’d rather take a Z to get my Zeds than lie there tossing, turning, fretting, worrying and panicking. Sometimes, you just need the nuclear option.
Am I worried about my careful, moderate use of Zopiclone killing me or giving me cancer? Nope! Not even remotely. I’m far more concerned about not sleeping and how bad that is for my health. Dangerous too, especially if I have to drive after a bout of insomnia.
All life is risky and you have to weigh up what matters to you. For me, a decent night’s sleep, occasionally medically aided, is my priority. Taking the occasional Z to get my Zeds is surely not so different from an alcoholic night cap? I don’t drink much alcohol and would worry far more if that was the chemical aid I turned to when desperate for sleep.
And yes, I know all about sleep hygiene. I’ve followed the programmes and even written about it. Somewhere. Doesn’t work for me. Nothing does. Just the occasional little white pill.
Convincing your doctor
My greatest concern is that scares like these will make doctors even more reluctant to prescribe Zopiclone and others in the Z family of sleeping pills. It’s hard enough to convince your doctor you need them. If they’re removed or made even harder to get, well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what some people will do. They’ll buy them off the internet – surely a far greater risk to their health?
Isn’t it better if doctors continue to prescribe these drugs so they can keep an eye on their patients’ use? I have about 28 3.75mg tabs a year. Hardly excessive. Hardly addictive. But incredibly useful. Why suffer when medication means you don’t have to?
As for looking at the root cause of insomnia – some of us have trouble sleeping and probably always will. I get insomnia when I’m worried about something. I get insomnia when I’m happy about something. I get insomnia when I’m sad and I get it when I’m up. Whatever life throws at me, insomnia is the only constant. It just is. I have to live with it. Only sometimes, I choose not to. That’s my grown-up choice and I’m entirely comfortable with it.
Barista too busy on phone to serve me!
Posted April 12th, 2012
I was on Five Live Tuesday night with Tony Livesey talking about trying to get served a cup of coffee in a new chain that opened in town – but Madam Barista was too busy talking on her phone to bother to give me much, or indeed any, of her attention!
And I was so pleased that we’d finally got a decent coffee chain in town. Being ignored in shops in a common problem where I live. But I thought a chain coffee shop might have a better attitude towards service. They didn’t have semi-skimmed milk either! Suggested she mix me full fat and skimmed instead! I mean who doesn’t offer semi-skimmed in a cafe these days? Isn’t that the milk choice de jour for most of us? Aren’t milk shelves in supermarkets crammed full of the green-topped variety?
Here me rant hear, should be cued in but if not, I come in at just about 1.17 minutes into the programme.
Short but not sweet - been suspended from the Tweet!
Posted April 10th, 2012
Well my foray into Twitter didn’t even last a week – I have been suspended. No idea why. They didn’t say.
This was my third attempt at “doing” Twitter. Wonder if was not meant to be.
Have now re-registered as @MissLauraMarcus if anyone wants to follow.
How coffee shops took over from pubs
Posted April 10th, 2012
Coffee bars are taking over from pubs. It’s a trend across the developed world but when it hit the small northern market town where I live, I knew it had really arrived. Once this town was famous for more pubs per person than just about anywhere else in the UK. Now pubs are closing faster than you can make an Espresso and it’s the chains selling Americanos, etc, that are taking their place.
The trend among teenagers these days isn’t to sneak a drag on a ciggie on the way to school – as I and my peers once did. No, it’s to openly carry a carton of coffee.
Why do we spend money buying a drink we can easily make at home or in our offices? Because it’s an affordable treat and no matter how bad the recession gets, people will always want treats. In fact, it’s been argued that buying a “lifestyle” cup of coffee is more likely in a recession than a boom. We may cut down on eating out, or even buying takeouts. But a little cup of coffee every now and then, what could it hurt?
I’m off to brew up.
Trying Twitter – again!
Posted April 4th, 2012
I have decided to have another go at Twitter. If you want to follow me I’m @Lawlsie as I couldn’t get my real name or any variation of it. But Lawlsie is a nickname I’ve had forever – well, since about 1973 (thank you Mich!) so I’m pleased to be able to get that.
I’ll probably mostly follow for the first few weeks as I believe that’s what you’re supposed to do. I also may open up my news updates here for comments as this is turning out to be a bit like a blog.
Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. I didn’t like it last time I tried it but seems everyone is on it now and it’s become kind of expected for journos so I once again I start the long uphill trek to get me some followers or look like a sad Billie No Mates. Mind, Billie was my nickname when I worked at the Surrey Comet (and my closest colleague Tim was Rossi) so maybe that’s not so bad. Billie and Rossi come from Lou Grant which is what inspired me to go into journalism. And that programme, kind of, followed on from All the President’s Men, the film and the book.
Ah for the days when people wanted to be reporters rather than that catch-all work in the media…
Anyway, maybe see you over there. Or, you know, not!
My holiday followed me home!
Posted April 2nd, 2012
Getting your holiday snaps back is a tradition that’s pretty much ended now thanks to digital phones and cameras. So it was very odd to open the pages of today’s Guardian and see a gorgeous full colour double page spread of the place I’ve just spent a week holidaying in!
Portmeirion as many will know is the place where 60s cult TV programme The Prisoner was filmed. And every year The Village, as it’s lovingly known to its millions of fans, holds a Prisoner convention in which scenes and episodes are re-enacted by enthusiasts.
The Village is always a great place to stay but this visit was particularly memorable for the stunning sub-tropical weather with temperatures regularly reaching 22 degrees (early 70s Fahrenheit), the yellow striped Mini Mokes zipping up and down and the new Forest Train.
It’ll be hard to top this visit but we’ll be back.
Be seeing you…
Trainee teachers PAY to work for nothing!
Posted April 2nd, 2012
We’re growing used to the insidiously creepy idea that new entrants to the workforce must first prove themselves by working for free.
Well now I’ve uncovered instances in further education colleges where people aren’t just working for free – they are PAYING to work for free!
Since my piece about this appeared in the Education Guardian, the fallout continues with many more coming forward saying yes, this is happening at their colleges too. Read all about trainee teachers paying to work for nothing.
And do please get in touch if you know of this happening at your workplace. Thanks.
A budget by the rich for the rich
Posted March 19th, 2012
Today I feature above the fold on the Guardian’s letters page talking about why cutting public sector pay in poor areas is bad economics.
If an area is already deprived, cutting salaries of well-paid professional workers will depress local economies still further. Every area needs consumers to buy products and services from local businesses which in turn creates and keep jobs. Reducing or freezing pay removes money from the economy and kills demand and thus the downward spiral gets worse.
I truly do not understand why the current chancellor doesn’t get this simple basic fact of economics. Or perhaps he understands all too well… but he just doesn’t care?
It’s the fourth letter here.
Are mortgages on the rates a good idea?
Posted March 16th, 2012
I was on BBC Radio WM this morning talking about council’s offering mortgages. I think this is a brilliant idea. It could make money for the council and help young people who couldn’t get mortgages in other ways.
It used to happen a lot. People I worked with in the 1970s got mortgages from the former Greater London Council and also Essex Council. The risk is low provided the borrowers are well selected and defaults on mortgages are still very low anyway – less than one per cent.
It’s win win. More councils should do it. Especially as they can borrow more cheaply from money markets than banks as councils have a reliable income – mostly from the government.
With the private sector increasingly encroaching into the public sector let’s have some movement in the other direction. Let’s have the public sector move into the private. After all, banks needed to be rescued by the state so why not have the state take this to a logical conclusion and take over banking? Bring it on!
My boss said: “You’re not gay are you!”
Posted March 14th, 2012
What happened when factory worker Craig decided to leave his job to become a nurse? His boss thought he must be gay!
This and other tales of people challenging stereotypes are part of the work I’ve been doing recently for NHS North West as the organisation seeks to improve diversity in recruitment.
Read Craig’s story, and others, here.
Posted March 8th, 2012
Received a statement from one of my syndication agents. They’ve sold six of my articles and four were about sex! Apparently sex still sells. And they want more sex from me.
The sex pieces I sold were:-
Sex – been off it. Now you want it. How you gonna get it?
Why career girls have the best sex
Why infidelity isn’t just about sex
Why you have great sex in bad relationships
Also sold was:-
Why we eat when we’re not hungry – which originally appeared in WeightWatchers magazine
Desk Jockeys – do you enjoy music while you work? That piece was for the Guardian.
I own the copyright to a massive back catalogue of articles about sex and relationships. So do please get in touch if you’re interested in buying second publication rights.
Are women better at handling redundancy than men?
Posted February 27th, 2012
One of loveliest letters a writer can receive is a notification that someone wants to buy the rights to reproduce a piece they’ve already published.
In April 2008 I wrote a piece for The Guardian looking at the different ways men and women handle redundancy. Do women cope better because despite it all – and I hope you know what I mean by it all – they still don’t expect to be a family’s main breadwinner? Or has that changed?
Now German school textbook publisher Stark Freising has bought the rights to reproduce this piece. I was informed of this by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). I knew of the ALCS but had never thought before to register with it as I already have two syndication agents selling my articles into secondary territories. But seems thanks to photocopying agreements, the ALCS can collect other monies on my behalf and reach parts my agents don’t. It only costs £25 and that comes out of the first payment you receive from them and it’s a one-off payment. So I’ve registered with them. And if you’re a published writer, may well be worth you doing the same.
Here is the piece that four years after it appeared is still making me money. Royalties! Don’t you just love them?
Should you tell a friend they’re marrying the wrong person?
Posted February 22nd, 2012
I was on the Jeremy Vine Show BBC Radio 2 talking about whether you should tell a friend you think they’re about to marry the wrong person. It was fun lively discussion and I disclosed that far from warning friends they were with someone who wasn’t right for them – I myself had once been on the receiving end of such warnings. So I knew how hard it was to hear such warnings but believed friends had every right to express an opinion. What sort of friend would they be if they didn’t?
Talking about alcoholism on BBC Radio Stoke
Posted February 20th, 2012
Did a brief phone interview on BBC Radio Stoke at 8.14am talking about hidden high-functioning alcoholism among professionals. It was a curtain raiser to the Panorama programme on BBC1 in which Alastair Campbell examined the subject.
Appearing on Pete’s People on BBC Radio Stoke
Posted February 16th, 2012
I will be joining the panel of Pete’s People on BBC Radio Stoke on Friday February 17th from 9am to 10am. We’ll be discussing the news of the week, including whether you’d hand in a large cash hoard if you found it and whether obesity in kids is all the fault of the parents.
Buy-to-let rage still storms
Posted February 13th, 2012
Feels good to stir the pot this way. The piece has also gone viral round the world. A Google search takes you to several pages with links and hits listed. So it’s not just a British issue but something that has struck a nerve. Are we witnessing a sea change in attitudes towards landlords, especially buy-to-let ones? Or has there always been barely contained rage around that most vital element in all our lives – where we live, how we live and how much profit others make from it?
Should you resolve disputes in the car?
Posted: February 9th, 2012
I am used as a relationship expert in this piece about whether the car is the right place to resolve arguments and disputes between couples. Bad enough you fall out over directions – but suppose your partner thinks just at the point you’re negotiating a tricky turning is the exact moment for them to tell you everything you’re doing wrong?
That said, cars can be a great place to get things off your chest or ask awkward questions it’s hard to bring up when you’re face to face or over the breakfast/dinner table. Most of us find confrontation difficult. So if it’s not a massive issue, why not use your time in the car to talk things over?
Buy-to-let landlord quits – third most read article!
Posted: February 8th, 2012
My piece about a Buy-to-Let landlord deciding to quit after ten successful years was a huge hit on the Guardian’s website bringing in nearly 450 comments, trending on Twitter and going viral. It was the third most read piece the weekend it appeared.
I thought it would make a nice human interest story but was stunned by the reaction it got. I suspect it’s because we’re a very divided nation that still sees itself in terms of class. That said, the piece struck a chord way beyond Britain so who knows?
Here’s my landlord quits piece.
Leave a job without one to go to? Madness or good sense?
Posted: February 7th, 2012
You would think in our insecure work world and the dire state of our economy that there’s never been a better time to stay in a job if you have one. Any job! In fact, the very opposite appears to be happening as I illustrate in my Guardian piece Taking a leap of faith.
I received lots of lovely responses to this piece. Many said they found it uplifting and full of hope. Just what we need in these otherwise dark times. And whose job is secure these days anyway? Perhaps the most creative and most interesting things happen in a recession? Let’s hope so eh!