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Suddenly, half a year

In which FP exercises


Well, hello again. Apparently, it’s summer.

Regularly, I do get urges to come back to the Admin Interface and write a bit more prose-doodling for this website. There are so many other things to do that keep me occupied, though. Now it’s summertime, the garden at Symbolic Towers is lush and green, and instead of getting on with things indoors you can regularly find me outside, hiding behind the Bee House,* pottering around the garden, deadheading the marigolds and worrying about the effect of leafhoppers on the potato harvest. As the gardens at Symbolic Towers are barely the size of a damselfly’s bandana, though, I am usually easy to spot.

Checking back, I’ve just realised that the entries on the main page still include things I wrote over a year ago now – for example, you can still see the ice monster we defeated when we moved house, down below this one. It’s not very good performance, for a blog that was originally started with the aim of posting every weekday. There are, however, more things in my head that I do plan to write about, some time over the next few months. Maybe I’ll actually manage them at some point. If nothing else, I should start posting pictures of the verdant garden, before it stops being verdant and crumbles back into autumn mulch. The pea plants are already starting to look a bit mildewed.

Lots has been in the news in the past few months about exams: about exam boards getting the questions wrong, about teenagers staring down baffled at unanswerable questions, and then about kids and parents complaining that they don’t want to be marked down for the question-setters’ mistakes. I have to say, my first thought was: surely, this is a learning experience? One of the first tips I was taught at school was: exam questions, numerically-based ones, are usually carefully worked out so that you’ll get nice neat answers at the end. The real world, of course, doesn’t work like that. When you’ve left school, you’ll find out that real world questions don’t have nice neat answers, and that often people will ask you things that are unanswerable, or insoluble with the information you have. Discovering that fact in the middle of an exam is probably a very good place to learn it. Possibly, this is why I should never become a teacher.

For now, that will do for a blog post. I will come back and try to write more in a few days; get my writing muscles unstiffened and flexible again. Because, as anybody who’s ever tried it knows, the more you write the more you want to write.

* Not one of those big boxes you use to house domesticated, sociable bees in the hope you can steal their honey, but a boarding-house for antisocial solitary bees. None have, as yet, taken up residence, but neverless I always check.

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Good news, bad news

In which we discuss what it takes to make the local news


Regular readers will know that I find it pretty easy to get worked up about local news reporting.* I do realise, though, that they do tend to operate under tight deadlines and very low budgets. It tends to alter the nature of their coverage. We love to sit at home and watch the local news, to see what stories they have come up with; they love stories that are simple to report and aren’t too serious.**

However, we were still slightly gobsmacked by one of tonight’s news items. A local woman has lost a shoe, and is rather upset. And, erm, that’s it. She was enjoying a night out, her shoes were in her handbag, and when she got home one was missing. That was enough to get her a standard-size segment on the news. A missing shoe.

Our reaction, of course, was to say: well, if they were that valuable, that important to you, then why weren’t you looking after them better? If they’re still on your feet, for a start, you’ll know where they are. Even if they’re not, pay attention to where they are, if they’re that important to you.*** Unless, of course, you want to get on the news.

* especially if it involves the Grimsby Telegraph.

** Such as the time they interviewed me because I happened to be in their building. There’s still a picture of me hidden away on the BBC website, caught in mid-sentence in mid-interview, and therefore looking entirely and completely gormless.

*** I should point out that there was no suggestion that it might have been stolen from her bag; the tone of the story implied that it has somehow dropped from her bag.

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Topical

In which we are overtaken by events


It’s nice to be topical, even if it is entirely by accident. Earlier, I complained about the rather unbalanced media coverage following the recent hit-and-run deaths of Sam Riddell and Troy Atkinson. Three or four hours after I published that post, the BBC briefly announced that the city magistrates have remanded someone to await trial for Troy’s death.

It’s good news that the hunt for his alleged killer has barely taken a couple of days longer than it took the police to find Hannah Saaf. It was probably a trickier job, too; unlike the Riddell/Saaf case, the chap in question wasn’t the registered keeper of the car. He’s not the man police arrested shortly after the incident, and he’s also been charged with taking the car without permission. It’s quite possible, to be fair, that the police kept the Atkinson/Ahmed case out of the media for investigative reasons; it was presumably thought to be in their interest to broadcast pictures of Hannah Saaf far and wide in the hope that somebody would spot her.*

There’s still something about the relative treatment of the cases in the media, though, which leaves a slightly nasty taste in my mouth. The police might have now brought both cases to the same stage, in roughly the same time; but one of those stories has been all over the media in the past few weeks, and the other has been hardly mentioned. This isn’t any sort of class war: it’s just a comment on the type of people who have easy access to the media. If you want to get your story out there, you need to have either a good publicist or a story that fits the media’s mould.

* which they did, although she hadn’t actually got that far out of Bristol

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Media Friendly

In which we compare and contrast two recent and similar deaths


This is a local news story. Which is to say: local readers will have heard most of the details of it before. Or, rather, it’s two local news stories together. People further afield may well have heard of one of them.

A couple of weeks ago, close together, two young people were killed in the Bristol area, in hit-and-run road accidents.

On April 28th, a 15 year old called Troy Atkinson was hit by a black Mercedes on Penn St, in the city centre. He died the following day, of his injuries. It featured in the local news, the police released the car’s registration and asked for witnesses to come forward; and then the news went quiet.

Three days later, an 11 year old called Sam Riddell was hit by a car in a North Bristol suburb. The driver fled the scene, leaving the car behind. It featured in the local news, and the police asked for witnesses to come forward.

There, though, the story changes. Sam Riddell’s story stayed in the news. The police revealed that the car’s owner matched the description of the driver, and that she had not come forward. More details came out about Sam Riddell’s happy family life, and newspapers started to publish photos of the car’s owner, presumably as her friends* and acquaintances realised there was cash to be made. The story slowly made its way from the local news to the national news, and came to a head when the alleged car-owner and driver was found, apparently hiding in a shed in Pensford. She was promptly charged, and is currently on remand awaiting trial.

I don’t know how far the police are getting in their investigation of Troy Atkinson’s death, because the press has been rather quiet about it. The police got as far as arresting someone, but whether he was charged or not I can’t seem to find out. And, apart from the manhunt aspect of the Sam Riddell case, there’s one rather obvious difference to the two cases. Sam Riddell was from Westbury-on-Trym; Troy Atkinson was from Hartcliffe.

Sam Riddell was brought up in a nice, middle-class suburb by nice, middle-class parents, who have made very sure that the story has stayed in the news. We’ve been given stories about what a nice boy he was, how he had lots of friends, played football, went to church regularly and had a happy life because of his firm faith in Jesus. I have no idea what Troy Atkinson’s upbringing was like, but, well, it was in Hartcliffe. Hartcliffe, if you’re not local, is a large 1950s estate, one of the most deprived areas in the south of England.** It’s a fair bet that Troy Atkinson didn’t go to church very often. It’s also a fair bet that his family isn’t very well off, because his friends organised a memorial march to help pay for his funeral. The Bristol Evening Post‘s response to the march was to print accusations that the mourners had carried out shoplifting attacks en route.

Maybe the news stories about Sam Riddell will disappear too now that the alleged car-driver is imprisoned. I suspect, though, that they will pop back up again as her trial date approaches, and then again in a few years when she’s released. If the driver who killed Troy Atkinson gets imprisoned, will it even rate a mention? This story, as much as any, shows how much your background matters. If you come from the right background, if you have an idea how to work the media and write a good press-release, you can keep your story in the news for almost as long as you like. If you don’t come from the right background, your story will sink without a trace.

* Or, former friends, I assume, given that they’ve now sold photos of her to the press.

** I can’t be bothered to check the statistics because that would involve getting up and going through to the living room; but I do recall that statistically Hartcliffe isn’t quite as bad as neighbouring Knowle West, which comes out as one of the worst places in England on several measures of social deprivation.

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Oversized and overpublicised

In which we get annoyed by the media and press releases


The other day, various news media carried the story that Ryanair, the world’s most controversial airline, was planning to charge fat people extra. Because that was, apparently, what its customers wanted. They’d been polling and everything.

Personally, I was surprised they hadn’t done it earlier. After all, they’ve already charged the physically disabled extra, so one more act of discrimination is hardly a surprise. It’s a small step, too, from charging per pound of luggage to charging per pound of flesh. I’ve never flown with them; and, because of policies like this, I’m never going to, so I don’t particularly care what they try to charge people. At least, until the day that other airlines start to think: “well, Ryanair can get away with it, why don’t we?”

What annoyed me, though, was the media’s reaction to what is, as yet, nothing more than a press release and a publicity stunt. The Guardian said as much in its article linked above; the rest of the media didn’t seem to care. BBC News was inviting people to phone in and text with their reactions; I wanted to say: “why are you giving them the publicity?” It’s nothing but cheap advertising for a firm who doesn’t really deserve it.

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Coalition

In which we consider the people who take to the streets


Last week the news was full of reports of demonstrations in London, over the G20 summit conference out in the Docklands. And I, for one, was a bit puzzled. The protesters seemed to be something of a strange coalition.

Generally the demonstrators were summed up as “anti-capitalists”, as always happens at these events; probably because the Socialist Workers are always on hand to provide lots of placards in the hope of furthering the Trotskyite Revolution that they’re expecting, in true millennialist fashion, any day now. And there were plenty of such placards visible in the news reports. But that wasn’t the picture I gathered from the protesters who were actually interviewed on TV. They all seemed to be died-in-the-wool capitalists, people who truly believed in capitalism, people who were upset that their bankers had disappointed them.

These people were saying: “all our money has gone”. Because these were all people who had money, and had invested it. They had been living off their savings income,* and were protesting that the drop in interest rates has wiped that income out. Whether their capital is gone too, of course, depends where they’d invested it and how risky they were prepared to be. But risk is an inherent part of the system.

These people were well off, by any measure; at one time, at least. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t have had money to invest to begin with. The vast majority of people, around the world, don’t have that complaint to make, because they’ve never been rich enough to save. You don’t have to worry about the return on your investment, or about the risk to your capital, if you’re in the great majority who don’t have any capital to invest.** And if you’re an anti-capitalist, I’d have thought you’d be celebrating the failings of the capitalist system, trying to tell the world all about them. These people I’d class maybe as Voodoo Capitalists, people who assume that if they make an investment, they are guaranteed an income, because That’s Just How It Works. The value of their investments may go down as well as up, but that was buried in the small print, so they feel it’s their natural right that their money should keep on coming in. Not anti-capitalists, not Trotskyists, just overly-trusting people.

* A “private income”, to use the old-fashioned term

** My own capital investments are limited to a few tens of pounds worth of shares in (nowadays) Lloyds Group, due to my one-time membership of the Halifax Building Society.

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Journalistic accuracy

In which the news needs its facts checking


Long-term readers might remember that, back in the mists of time, I upset some busy bees at the Grimsby Telegraph after describing that newspaper as “rather news-thin”. Which, indeed, it is: they don’t have much news in it, because they don’t have the reporters or the money to research much news. I kept meaning to take a random copy, take it apart, and break down its content into “quality” and “filler” – the latter being things like the letters pages, readers’ photos, TV listings, local sports reports* and so on; but, not living anywhere that I can get hold of a copy easily, it has been put on the back burner.

I was gratified to see, though, that its stablemate the Bristol Evening Post may have similar issues. Certainly, job cuts at both the Grimsby Telegraph and the Evening Post were making the news recently; and I’ve since noticed that the Evening Post no longer seems to pay as much attention to the accuracy of what it prints.

On Monday afternoon, a story appeared on their website, concerning a street fight in Bedminster the night before; your average local news story really. Five people were injured, and police closed the street** to search for evidence. As the Evening Post said:

The street has now reopened

Which it has. Unfortunately for the Evening Post, that story is dated 15:35, Monday. In the real world, at 5pm, everything was still cordoned off, as CSI Bedminster’s finest were still going about their jobs: white suits, facemasks and all. Oops.

Earlier in the day the police had said that they’d probably have tidied everything up by lunch-time. Clearly the Post staffer responsible for that story had heard as much, assumed that “probably” meant “definitely”, and didn’t have chance to check their facts before going to press. Which is understandable, given that it’s a small point, and the Evening Post has to get a paper out every afternoon however few reporters it has left. It makes me wonder though; if they don’t check small details like this, what else gets printed unchecked?

“It’s just like you reviewing things you haven’t seen or read,” said K, when we talked about it later.

“You’ve got a point,” I admitted.

“You should be writing reviews for them, then!” she said. Now there’s an idea.

* Most of which, especially if they appear without a byline, are essentially press-releases from the teams involved.

** Here’s a factoid for trivia fans: the street in question is part of the longest road entirely in England.

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Specialist Subject

In which FP gets on the telly


No blogpost yesterday, because – well, I was rather busy. Regular readers might remember this post from last week, in which I speculated vaguely about auditioning for a TV quiz show.* Those auditions, as it happened, were yesterday.

They were open auditions, so I just turned up. And, really, it was all rather painless. They weren’t busy; I sat down, answered some general knowledge questions, and had a bit of a chat about potential subjects. All very friendly. The interesting bit, though, was after I came out. “Would you mind hanging around for a while,” someone said, “the local news would like to interview people.”

Happy to oblige, I waited around, before going outside, getting miked up, and answering a few questions about what I’d just been doing. And then: “could we have some setup shots of people queuing outside the audition room?” So, the news team commandeered a corridor with a likely-looking door at the end, sat us down, and told us to try to look nervous. I found it hard not to laugh, as the cameraman zoomed in on our anxious faces from somewhere around floor-level. We acted out arriving at the audition, for the cameras, and I suddenly realised how hard acting is: how hard it is to make scripted actions feel natural.

The whole thing seemed far more complicated than the audition itself had been. And even if I don’t end up on any quiz shows, I’ve had my 2 minutes of stardom on the local news now.

* I didn’t say which one, but it was fairly easy to guess.

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Snowed in

In which we consider historical weather and historical labour disputes


Incidentally – while the weather is still cold and the snow is deep again – I should point out that, on this day in 1978, the weather was pretty much the same as it is today. “Country in grip of freeze” all over the papers, and that sort of thing.

The reason I know this is: my mother kept all the press cuttings about it, so she could stick them in her New Baby Book.

The other big thing in the news which she saved clippings of, oddly enough, was: Grimsby workers getting rather upset about foreigners taking their livelihoods away. Back then it was fishermen, who hadn’t quite given up their hopes of fishing in Icelandic territorial waters, even though the main Cod Wars had been over for a few years. Today, of course, it’s oil workers who are going back to work, presumably satisfied that their rather vague demands* have been catered for; the fish industry now sticks to breadcrumbing and battering other people’s fish. This is only a rough guess, based on anecdotal evidence, but I’d say that most of the people working in fish-related jobs in Grimsby are migrant workers – largely, as I said before, because they’re the people who apply for factory-line jobs nowadays.

* An awful lot of the strikers interviewed on TV didn’t seem awfully sure what their demands even were, or what it would take to get them back to work. “We’re sending a message to Gordon Brown, that someone will have to do something?” “What will they have to do?” “Um … well, I dunno, but someone is going to have to do something

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Private life

In which we spare a thought for Mrs Max Mosley


In the news today: the Max Mosley trial continues. Note for readers from the future: he enjoyed a BDSM session with a group of women, who have been described widely as “prostitutes” by the media. He had these regularly, and so wasn’t expecting that one day in spring, one of them would pop a video camera down her cleavage and sell the footage to the News Of The World. Oops. So he’s suing for exemplary damages – in other words, he doesn’t just want recompense, he wants retribution.

I have to say, though, that I don’t think he deserved much sympathy. Not because he’s rich and powerful. Not because of who his father was, or because he has his own murky right-wing past. I don’t think his sex life deserves to be exposed because he has a prominent job: what he gets up to in the bedroom should have no effect on how well he can carry out his job. What does give me a moral twinge, though, is that he’s apparently been hiding his sex life from his wife for almost their entire marriage. According to his statements in court: he’s been involved in the BDSM scene, safely and without exposure, for 45 years – in other words, since his early 20s, when he was a law student active in far-right politics. However, at the same time, he said, his wife had no idea of his kinky inclination until the NotW revealed all. Mosley married in 1960, around the age of 20; from what he’s said, he must have been getting his kicks from the BDSM scene since the early years of his marriage, going behind his wife’s back for decades.

Mrs Mosley is, apparently, devastated by Max’s exposure in the press. I can imagine. It’s a lot to take in. I can’t think to imagine how she feels.

Everyone’s entitled to keep their life private from the general public – but I’m not so sure that they’re entitled to keep it private from their partner quite to that extent. It’s common, though – especially online – for men to approach the BDSM scene with an “I have these urges but I can’t tell my wife” attitude. In the general scene – what you might call the non-professional side – they usually get advised not to go behind their partner’s back; but I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the money in the pro-dominatrix market comes from this sort of chap.* Mosley is, on the one hand, a sign that such men can get along happily for years** so long as the press isn’t likely to be interested in them. The BDSM community might frown on you if you want to go behind your wife’s back, but they will generally consider it to be your own business if you do. On the other hand: he’s also a sign that you can’t necessarily keep something quiet forever. When your partner does find out, you only have yourself to blame.

* For one thing: although the pro-dominatrix market is saturated, prices are still rather high, partly because although there are endless swarms of pro-dominatrixes around very few of them are very good at what they do, and partly because being a good pro-dominatrix can be pricy, just to stay stocked up with all the silly PVC clothes that the customers are paying to drool over. It’s only the well-off men who can afford to hire one regularly, and they’re more likely than average to be settled with a partner.

** assuming they can afford it. A Mosley-ish session would probably have cost him somewhere between one and two thousand quid a time, at a rough guess.

Update, July 9th: my rough guess there was somewhat on the low side. According to the report in today’s Guardian, Mosley was paying £500 to each participant. That’s about £100 per hour, or £2500 for the whole session. He also paid the rent on the flat where it took place.

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