Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I just read this great article by Amelia Gentleman.

My own feelings about the impact of sexual assault are quite passionate, as I know at least three victims personally. When somebody gets mugged late at night, there's never any question of interrogating the victim- but when I spoke to victims of rape, they've tended to feel a pressure - that they might be judged.

One spoke about the episodes of post-traumatic stress that have affected her since the crime:

“I woke up about four hours outside London, next to train tracks,” she said. “I had no idea how I got there. I’d gone on this crazy rampage. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know how to live, either. I’m now back on track, but I am disabled because these problems affect my ability to work – My life has been set back by at least three years.”

“At the moment it seems that unless somebody actually walks in when it’s happening, there’s not enough evidence in rape cases. But I have a new-found respect for the police. I met some really decent officers and I might even want to seek work with them in the future, which is something I never thought I’d say, to help other victims.”

The other girl had a bad experience with the police, feeling intimidated by them when she refused to make a formal statement:

She said: “"The kind of men that will rape you aren’t about to say ‘I’m going to rape you now’. Instead they say things like ‘I know you want to. You know you want to. You’re dressed like you want to. You move like you want to.’ They mess with your head. The main reason I didn’t report what happened was because of worrying about the impact on other people. And it’s hard to give an accurate police statement when you’ve blocked so much of it out. You know you’re going to be really grilled and you don’t want to talk about it. You just want to forget it."

The first concurred with this, having spoken to a lot of other victims:

“Generally, I find that when you report a rape, you’re treated as the guilty party. The Sapphire Unit, where I went, are different, adopting what you might call a doctor’s bedside manner, and they never wear uniforms. I found that having to talk about what happened –that brought on flashbacks – but I think it taught me to confront problems and avoid being a victim of life.”

Three years after the event, she is still grappling with post-traumatic stress and feels ‘really, incredibly angry’ because the Crown Prosecution Service rejected her case, on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to proceed.

“I would love to see this guy go to prison, but what really needs to change is the culture in which people feel it is OK to do this. Graffiti artists can go to prison for two years just for painting on walls, but a rapist can walk away after giving a life sentence to somebody else. It destroys that person. It affects everybody around them. It screws up their relationships."

I was haunted by this interview which increased my urge to campaign on the subject. But when getting into questions of 'culture' - again you're in a debate about the correct way to portray sex and different genders and quickly find yourself in a psychological bog, removed from the issue of our justice system.

Even so, I asked a friend if he thought violent porn was part of the problem.

"I really wouldn't know anything about porn," he said.

Google's opinion on this subject ranges from 'all men consume porn' to '8% of male internet users consume porn' with any number of hypotheses about the effects, good or bad… We don't know, basically, but judging from a tortured chorus on forums, people worry about it either way.

(by the way, I'm sure this isn't a *man problem*, because when we're talking about the corrosive judgement that victims worry about, that can be judgement from women just as much as from men. Moreover, men are abused, too, and that's rarely talked about).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

bada-ba-da-badada… assorted notes

"So," I said, "how did you get into swing?"

"Well," he said. "When I was in Canada two years ago, I was seeing this girl and we went dancing. She started jumping from side to side and then she was jumpin' all over me.
I said: What the feck are you doing?
She said: I'm swing dancing.
I haven't looked back since."

I have been learning to dance the charleston in London and it's the cutest thing I've ever done. The charleston at its best plays out like a good joke.
I use this to illustrate my point. Something to aspire to:

Here is something else amazing. It made me laugh my head off, and fall in love with Jen Kirkman just a little bit.

A SIDE NOTE… To re-cap on my last post, I found out that Hampshire Constabulary do have women on their 'Galaxy' rape investigation unit. This pleases me.

I'd like to spend a day with them, journalistically, but I am currently working in London.


Last night my father was in London and we went to see Krapp's Last Tape. There are a few things I noticed. Firstly, Gambon does a lot of acting with his fingers, moving them in a fascinating way, with his face crumpled and papery with emotion.

Secondly, his voice is amazing. He imbued a sonorousness in this line that spoke to me of old houses and the ticking of grandfather clocks:

"Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited."

Farewell Grahame Holmes…

I've shed a fair few tears thinking about what makes a good life, recently, because one of my favourite musicians passed away this week. He was a conductor, a teacher and an inspiration to everyone. It had been years since I last saw him conduct, but he had an extraordinary warmth for others, lighting up in response to a single hint of interest from a student.

He possessed the strength of assuming the best of everyone, and this faith was returned. I think it takes a great person to abandon all misgivings and remain open to the world.

Most of all I remember being moved to tears in rehearsal by Grahame's devotion to feeling things deeply, as a way and a creed. Every Saturday, hands raised, he would entreat us to play with feeling.

"If you don't have passion, you don't have anything."
-Grahame Holmes.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

London my old friend

"What are you saying?"
"I don't understand."

He took a moment, then tried again.

"I need 80p."

"Oh." I looked at his face, which was half asleep.

We were outside Sainsburys, where I'd sat down, having just spent £3 on 2 smoothies.

I'd been wondering, while sipping my vanilla bean concoction, whether this was decadent for an intern that hasn't sorted out a Saturday job.

"Take this instead," I said, thrusting the second smoothie into his hands.


"I've not got any change," I added, smiling.

"Thanks," he mumbled, but didn't move. His dazed look intensified and he gestured to his lips.

"You've still got milk 'round your mouth," he managed.

"Oh." I wiped it off.

With great effort, he winked. It reminded me of the way old fashioned doll-babies wink, one eyelid following the other…

I started my internship today - four celebrity interview transcripts in one afternoon. Quite fascinating, as I feel like I've been socialising with them in depth.

I also ate some cake and applied for some things. It's been a good day.

Check out my VB report about cold cases of rape being investigated in Hampshire

I noted at the briefing that all four police officers were men, while all five journalists were women.

Is there a shortage of female detectives? Possibly - I don't know .

The question of whether there are any women on Operation Galaxy's team only occurred to me afterwards. I don't know anything about the balance of gender in investigating rape cases but I've sent a follow-up email because I suspect it's an important question.

Oh dear it's past 1 already. Time for bed.

I will leave you with an amusingly erotic secretary (or intern?), courtesy of Belle and Sebastian.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

"Is this actually legal?"

I went to an Isle of Wight Council meeting recently and came home feeling angry for vulnerable people again threatened by cuts.

Controversy reigns over the proposed closure of Westminster House, a respite care home for adults with learning difficulties. The story is cogently outlined on Ventnor Blog.

The proposal, supposedly put forward by a representative group of carers (the Whole Life Working Group - expert branding), but actually pushed through by the Isle of Wight Council, is that respite services are moved to a basement of another care facility.

Cowed by the scale of protest, the Council have postponed the final verdict for 90 days while they engage in 'consultation' with service users.

Here is some of my shorthand from the heated meeting:

Cllr Mazillius said: "We wish to have complete confidence that all people who use the service have had the opportunity to [voice] any further comments or concerns."

"Until now you haven't listened to a word we've said."

"We have, through our officers, through our members, through open sessions and private sessions. We will leave no stone unturned[…] We've absolutely nothing to hide."

In the corridor afterwards, I passed a group of blasted-looking stakeholders embracing one another on sofas, faces drawn.

One stakeholder said: "My understanding is that legally the council needs to consult all users and carers before decisions being made. Although we have been invited to those meetings, they have amounted to the council telling us their plans. Is this actually legal?"

I'm not sure, but the dictionary might help:

consultation: the act of referring or consulting; "reference to an encyclopedia produced the answer"

A consultation produces an answer, the intrinsic implication being that it does not foist an answer on anybody. This exchange made me cross:

Mazillius: "The purpose of the ninety day consultation is to ensure that the concerns of the people that use the services are addressed before a final decision is made."

Ms. Hawkins: "So are you saying then, Councillor Mazillius, that there will be proper consultation before any decision is taken to close Westminster House and all the service users and all their concerns will be fully addressed? With the possibility of not relocating Westminster House?"

"Mrs Hawkins, if this authority wanted to brush anything under the carpet we wouldn't have introduced the ninety day consultation. […] I assure you that professional officers will make sure that every avenue is looked at."

[comment from gallery: 'he still hasn't answered the question']

Ms. Hawkins insisted that Cllr Maz. answer the question…

"We clearly have a preferred option […] we will fully consult on that option. But this vote will be decided by the forty members of this chamber, not by me and not by you, madam."

Yet, obviously, he is one of the forty members of the chamber, and she is not.

A lady called Hazel Wyld has convincingly condemned the Council for their pretence at consultation so far. I have some hope of her campaign having an impact on what happens next…

I will give her the final word on this subject (I would extend it to anybody downplaying the vulnerability of the vulnerable at this time). She is addressing Isle of Wight Councillors.

"Hear it from the horse’s mouth
We are the most directly involved, we care on a daily basis, we strive to do the best we can for our never going to grow up children. You who do not live with this can, with all due respects, have no idea of how our lives are governed by having to care for a grown up child, who changes our lifestyle in a way you can not even begin to imagine.
Along with that comes the sadness that they will never live the lives your children have, they won’t go to University or away with their pals on a holiday, or back pack round the world, marry and raise grandchildren for us to enjoy.
We are very aware that very little is given to them and when we see that as threatened, of course we get angry."

Banking - alchemy in real terms?

My sense of indignation has expanded through reading Whoops! by John Lanchester, an amusing unpacking of the credit boom and bust.

My biggest mind-expansion so far came in the chapter called 'rocket science' which outlines the full implications of 'credit default swaps' (CDSs) - a groundbreaking mathematical strategy that transferred to insurers the risk that a person, or company, would not be able to pay back their loan.
"These new financial instruments were very, very clever, but they had an unfortunate side-effect: they broke banking. […] The whole idea that a banker looks a borrower in the eye and takes a view on whether he can trust him came to seem laughably nineteenth century."
There was little way of refereeing this new game, and it was HUGE:
"By June 2008, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association or ISDA […] was estimating the total size of the market as $54 trillion, $54,000,000,000,000, close to the total GDP of the planet".
"This tool, the CDS, which had been invented as a way of making lending safer, turned out to magnify and spread risks throughout the global financial system. It's as if people used the invention of seatbelts as an opportunity to take up drunk driving."

Friday, 24 September 2010

Boden man, Toast man and the Boast catalogue

These two catalogues arrived at my parents' house recently, raising the question: "Alex, what sort of gentleman could win your heart?"


Boden man, with your giant pretzels and coffee and your smug tennis, riding rough-shod over public bridges straddled by blonde women…

… Toast?

Toast man with your derelict abode, unkempt hair, romantic far-away stare and probable suicidal tendencies…

Toast Man or Boden Man? My heart cannot decide.

I conclude, there is a dearth of healthy masculine role-models for the image-conscious man.

Being more pro-active in general than Toast's moping models, I rode my bike to the beach recently. Tourist season is over. The Isle's tourist hotspots are desolate and distressed, so probably quite fashionable. I found an old, abandoned swimming pool, by an empty shoreline and present… *fanfare*

The 'Boast' catalogue

For a 'washed up seaweed' look that remains vivacious - try purple.

Rust can add a splash of warmth to an aging complexion.

For a fully rounded look, add pebbles…

Haircuts (all haircuts) are out this season.

Monday, 26 July 2010

"Defenders of the neighbourhood…"

My sister, her flatmate Lisa and I bore witness to a disturbing altercation last night. A man – drunk - and a woman - not drunk, dressed stunningly, were alone in the darkness.

He was ranting. She was saying “get in the car.”

“F*ing c*, f*ing c*”

She shrieked. There was the sound of smashed glass. When he came into view again he was swinging himself around lamp-posts. He heaved a picnic table up above his head and dropped it on the pavement.

“Stop!” she shrieked.

“GRRRR.” he returned.

“He’s like a gorilla,” my sister said. “I think he’s all talk, though.”

“Look at what you’re doing. Look at what you’re doing to ----“ the woman appeared to be showing him a picture on her mobile phone.

“F*** off!” he said and began walking away, the woman followed him, all the time talking on the phone.

“Leave me alone! Get off that f***ing phone. I don’t want to hurt anybody. You think I wouldn’t!” he said.

“You’re already hurting people,” she said.

“Hurting people… F***.”

“Yes, you’re hurting yourself,”

“I’m hurting myself!”

“Why doesn’t she just walk away?” Lisa said.

“I think we might need to call the police again,” my sister said. She’d already phoned them once to deal with what sounded like an assault in her block of flats this week.

He turned on the woman.

“I’m going to f***ing kill you” he said.

“She’s by herself down there,” Lisa said. “We should take a phone with us.”

All three of us grabbed our shoes and I rammed my hat on my head, because a face in shadow feels braver. We ran down the stairs.

The man was walking towards the woman, who just stood staring at him. We were on the other side of the park shouting.

“Mate, if you don’t calm down I’m going to call the police!” Becky said.

“I’ve already called them,” the woman called back, standing before him with astonishing placidity as he swaggered up to her, his hands rising to her throat.

“Leave her alone!” I was on the verge of tears suddenly. They looked around. I put my hand in my pocket, tilted my head on one side and stuck out my chin.

He backed away from her then and carried on ranting.

“Come on, Alex. She’s already called the police,” my sister said. We retreated to watch from the window of her flat. Part of me was itching to go outside and stand next to the woman – but they could both see us watching from the window at least.

“Why doesn’t she walk away?” Lisa murmured again.

The police arrived and began talking to him. “Nice to see you again.”

The man was suddenly humble in his explanations.

“I went off my rocker, that’s what happened. I’m very sorry.”

“Yes I understand everybody needs to blow off steam once in a while. Is there anything in particular that has happened recently that has made you feel this way?”

The woman walked away with the other policeman. They continued their murmured conversation.

“What I’m concerned about, sir, is there may be some underlying issues, here…”

“And that’s why you shouldn’t drink Stella,” Lisa sighed.

“Look at us. Defenders of the neighbourhood.” Becky said. “Can everybody just CALM DOWN, please.”

I find it odd that we three girls were ready to run outside and speak out for the sake of a woman alone in the dark, but other passers by just looked at the ground, hurried the hell on their way.

Your own safety first, right? I know that’s sensible – little good comes of detachment though.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

"My love's my own."

I've just come back from a couple of days visiting a friend in Wales. She trains horses with a traveller in a trailer. Giving me a lift to the train, he told me a little of his life story - a constellation of pain and resilience with so much depth, I hope he won't mind me sharing.

He smiled when he spoke about his daughter.

"She’s mint, actually. She’s absolutely mint.

The thing is, she always adored me, ever since she was a baby. She wouldn't even go to sleep until I got home, though I’d be out working ‘till one in the morning sometimes.

I haven’t seen my daughter for two years now. I’ve got court orders saying I should see her, but her mum doesn’t want me in her life. She wants to be single mum with a tragic story living on the dole. So she tells terrible tales about me – she told these gypsies that I’d kicked her teeth in and left her in a pool of blood. She got them in such a state that they wanted to come find me and sort me out.

Luckily for me, they knew somebody that knows me – not only knows me but has drunk with me, been in trouble alongside me. So I got a phone call from this guy and he says “Are you a different person to who you used to be?" He knows I’m not a violent person. I never have been.

The good thing that came of it is that now, these gypsies are keeping an eye on my daughter for me. I know that if there’s any trouble, they’ll let me know.

I was so well-behaved in court and represented myself as my own solicitor. I got commended by two separate judges for my good behaviour. All I did for that was I imagined my father were sitting behind me.

I didn’t drop a single vowel, then, because you can’t. Not when he’s around.

When I was growing up you were allowed to beat your children. You were even allowed to beat your wife. That’s what he did. You weren’t supposed to take it too far – but he did that, too.

Violence was all he’d ever known. His mother died when he was twelve. One day my grandad grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, literally, and marched him down to the army station and signed him up. My dad didn’t want to go into the army, but he didn’t have a choice.

My mum? All she ever wanted was a girl. Instead, she had three boys in space of two years, and she was all by herself. She had hard times dragging all three of us boys through airports. Life was hard for her. We were moving every six months to a different country. I was born in Northern Ireland but I can't remember it. Back in the 1970s that was a real war zone, so what were they doing sending her there? It was good that we left.

Fourth time she got pregnant, it was a girl. But, she lost the baby. When she lost it, she didn’t just lose the baby, she lost everything. That was the end of that.

She's a good mum. She cooked well for us. We never wanted for anything, but there was no love. She never had any love for us. Even now, if somebody comes to hug me – just a friendly hug – I find that difficult. My love’s my own. I didn’t get that from anybody else."

"I remember one time we moved…" [laughs] "She made one mistake. She told us to go to school but the house she chose was a mile three quarters away and we had to walk. Between home and school, there was a forest…”

We'd arrived at the train station now and he trailed off with an owlish look.

Next time I visit he said he’ll teach me to ride.

Friday, 16 July 2010

"It's rude not to say hello."

In London, so many strangers can see your face, but that's no bad thing. Recently, I was on the overground as night fell, crying discretely.


A direct smile makes a world of difference. Instantly, I dried up.


His friends started laughing.

"I just told them, it's rude not to say hello," he said. "Where've you come from?"

"Nowhere in particular. I'm going to my sister's in Acton."

He asked me what I do, so I told him about Salon D'Été, trying to paint this picture for him.

"It's pop-up," I said. "The whole place might be going under soon."

We never exchanged names, but were solid friends for 30 seconds and I forgot what I was sad about.

"You're getting off?" he said. "I thought you'd be coming back to mine."

The whole thing could just have been an extended chat-up line - but life's better when it's riskily open than routinely alienating.

Worries come and go. The important thing is completely removed, and this video seems to capture it. Oh… Andrew Bird

On further musical notes - last night the Salon was alive with joy. Regulars The Dixie Ticklers got the place jumping and I'm not sure how 'ambience' is created, but credit design by my friend Ed Saperia, who appears to have a talent.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Times internship over - Victoriana for cash

At risk of sounding sycophantic, work experience at The Times was amazing. I shadowed the defence editor, who effected on me a kaleidoscopic sense of awe. All the exciting stuff was off-record, though, so I can't describe it here. She made me giddy by telling me I have 'the right drive'. I'll need it. The print media market is shrinking and the pool of talent grows daily.

The cost of my incessant job/internship-hunting will be slightly supplemented by some part-time work I've just acquired at a London nightclub, to open on Friday. I went to the site today and found the interior still being built.

'Hello, what do you do?'
'I'm a trained journalist but I have no job. I've also got waitressing experience.'
'Well we need bus boys and girls, I'll give you my email address, you've got my phone number…'
(behind him is only dust and noise, a vast encampment of ladders, stage lights, bar stools and debris…)
'Is there anything I can do to help?'
'Well I have to move all this wood downstairs, but- I really don't think-'
'Why? Because I'm a lady?'
'I can carry wood.' I beamed. I am highly versatile

So I got dusty while the important people discussed who was doing what where and what the acts needed and how it was all to be built on schedule.

A small flutter followed when one of my triplet sisters arrived, being short of cash too - isn't everyone? The owner immediately mixed us up and got quite excited about it.

At last, an opportunity to capitalise on mutant clone status.

We're to be dressed identically, and play the twin act. I assume they want the cute version. Need I remind you of the alternative…

Wins'em every time.

Since this is an ad-hoc part-time deal, I hope the clientele tip well. I will be fitted for a Victorian costume on Wednesday, but I need to find my own shoes… Apart from that, I've been applying for jobs and internships today and checked out the High Courts because I'm keeping an eye on a case… Apparently, judgement has been suspended. I'm an optimistic rookie all the same. I've got a piece in The Times and that's got to count for something, hasn't it?

On a much smaller, lighter note, check out my review of Dreadzone on page 17 of The Hackney Gazette.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Work in Hackney

Hello there,

Here's my most recent work for Ventnor Blog:
Bluebyrds & Sundown City to play IW Fest
Veterans in Prison

Subsequently, I did a week's placement at the Hackney Gazette and kept myself busy. Ents coverage was fun. I had a good dance to Dreadzone and slightly fell in love with Dalston at the Land of Kings Festival, during which I interviewed indie popsters Yuck, who made me giggle. They can be found wandering Stoke Newington's streets, hugging one another, possibly to the croon of harmonica…

Georgia from Yuck on Vimeo.

I also interviewed Hackney-based director David Bond about the release of his new film Erasing David, in which he tries to hide from a team of private investigators hired by his producer to track him down. The idea is that this game of cat and mouse reveals just how much information about you is available in the public domain.

Personally, though, my most important work came on a rainy Sunday, marching with mourners to Stamford Hill, where Godwin Lawson was killed.

Making a stand against knife crime, members of the Ghanaian High Commission, local politicians, freelance photographers and youth activists attended. I was the only reporter present and his family kindly thanked me for coming.

Being professional is not the same as being detached and this event climbed onto my back quite hauntingly. I'll definitely be following what happens.

The most eloquent speech came not from local MPs or ambassadors, but from 21-year-old Symeon Brown, chairman of a group called Haringey Young People's Empowerment.

I did my best to use as few words as possible, but there was no space for Symeon's speech in the printed version of the report, which hasn't been published online.

Here is my copy:

Marchers mourn Godwin

Hundreds marched in the rain on Sunday to the place where 17-year-old Godwin Lawson was fatally stabbed on Stamford Hill. Ambassadors, politicians, schools and youth activists joined with his friends and family to protest against knife crime.

Godwin’s aunt, Romana Lawson-Wobyl organised the protest in his memory. ‘If we can save even one child’s life, it will all be worthwhile,’ she said.

Leading members of the Ghana High Commission and the Ghana Union also attended: ‘We have to send a message to young people that knife and gun crime is alien to our culture,’ said Edward Cofie, Counsellor of Consular Affairs.

The marchers sang, prayed and chanted anti-violent slogans, but drew quiet as they reached Stamford Hill. Mourners wept. A one-minute silence was followed by speeches, a release of red balloons and the lighting of candles.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington said: ‘Speaking as a mother, I have tried to support too many who have said goodbye to their sons. We cannot afford to lose more men like Godwin in this cruel way.’

Symeon Brown, 21-year-old chairman of Haringey Young People’s Empowerment (HYPE), remembered playing football with Godwin:

‘There was so much to admire in him. He was a young leader of London, and still is. We need to be led by his legacy. I don’t want to hear anybody crying, I don’t want to hear anything being said unless we are going to work. We are marching to build a safer London and a safer community. If we are not here to do this, then what are we here for?’

The crowd made a vow to work against knife crime and Godwin's parents embraced those that stood with them at the place where he died.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Meanwhile, on a less industrious note

I've seen Kick Ass and I don't know why it's viewed as controversial…

Well, wait… I do know. It's the pre-pubescent girl wearing leather and the cartoon violence. But you'll only find that titillating if there's something irrevocably wrong with you already! This film will corrupt nobody. It made me laugh so much I cried.

Also… Fionn Regan should be old news by now but I've only just got the memo. I find his self-conscious emulation of Bob Dylan here quite charming! Especially the hat and sunglasses which, combined with the pratfall, make him look about TWELVE.

And this Villagers song appeals to the frustrated artist in me. :) Hooray for creepy pigs and lyrical poetry.


Hello, realised I haven't written in a while. This is partly because I'm juggling… I currently have one foot on the Isle of Wight, one foot in London. I'm trying to dedicate myself to 2 lots of work experience simultaneously, while applying for journalistic jobs and preparing for interviews.

I thought, optimistically, that being unemployed might be a *restful* state to be in, but that's not really the case and I'm trying to keep all my plates spinning at once!

Here are some articles I dashed off…

I am enjoying the local music scene and discovered a band called The Bluebyrds. Their performance was so astonishing - so true to the spirit of Hendrix - that I ran up to the lead singer afterwards and told him so - which made him blush like crazy. He's only sixteen.

It seemed they need to write more of their own material (most of their repertoire consists of sixties covers) but they are only in high school after all. Here's my review of the evening:

Battle of the Bands

On a more unsettling note, I interviewed a man about Mephedrone use on the Island. The 'legal high' has hit headlines everywhere.

Incidentally, I was irritated by 'plant food' use at a house party recently… the users were extremely hyperactive, suddenly developed terrible taste in music (played at full volume) and talked ALL NIGHT, only about themselves. When it got to 5am, I just wanted to sleep. Substance-induced narcissism is such a yawn.

Researching this particular substance proved interesting. Meph is compared, variously, to heroine, coke and ecstasy… none of which are innocuous. It also turns your knees blue after a while because it damages your circulation. What larks.

And fulfilling my mundane news quotient I have once again been writing about roads. It seems all Islanders live for is getting from A to B on wobbly scenic trajectories!

This particular road threat (one of the most scenic drives on the Isle and a particular favorite of mine, actually) led to my contacting pearl jewelers who have based themselves helpfully in the middle of nowhere.

I produced a podcast interview with prospective Lib Dem MP Jill Wareham on this hot election issue, if anybody feels like listening to my voice. :) Thrilling stuff.

I've got plenty of other plates spinning, none of which are getting me any money just yet but hopefully I will develop real prospects, rather than continuing with this strange circus act.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The most provocative thing I've ever done?

My latest article on the 'transformation' of social care on the Isle of Wight was published today and Ventnor Blog's comment box is ablaze.

Wheeeeeee. Watch it go. See it fly.

I also did a piece on school admissions over lunch. This is proving much less controversial.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Clay and articles…

Mission accomplished.

In addition to that lovely stuff, I've been finding out about poorly-negotiated changes to social care on the Isle of Wight…

The next installment should be published tomorrow. Yesterday I phoned 16 conservative councillors to ask inconvenient questions.

I was terribly humble but the second man I introduced myself to still sounded like he wanted to spit on me and cut me off without saying goodbye. I captured his anger in shorthand though. (Geeky dance of victory).

In other news, I have found out that Island folk don't just care about roads. They also care about 200-year-old walls under threat from planning.

There's other stuff too, but it's less exciting (less exciting? Why yes, pumpkins. I prefer the stories in which I wasn't helped so much by PR people. I did conduct a pleasant interview with a new employee at IW Steam Railway, but consider my write-up a bit twee.)

Apart from that, just job-seeking and trying to get a larger feature off the ground. In testing the water, I've discovered that prisons are fairly impenetrable. What a surprise. :)



Hello, hello,

I signed on today! A bit slow off the mark. I suppose I thought my luck would run faster.

This weekend I went to the Minghella Film Festival, which proved moving. Like most people, I never met Anthony Minghella, but when you've spend any time at these events you suddenly miss him, quite acutely.

Notable, too, was the oceanic melancholy of independent film-making. I sat in on a Ventnorblog interview with two scriptwriters, who said they collaborate on projects to stave off loneliness and despair.

"It's the most frustrating job in the world," one concluded, eyes brimming, I kid you not. I hope a little optimism will ensue for them. After all, they'd just had their first successful public premiere of their film and it got an excellent response.

My highlight of the festival was a screening of Minghella's writing for childrens' television: 'The Storyteller', starring John Hurt. An unorthodox choice for a film festival but it proved charming and was followed by a conversation with John Hurt and Duncan Kenworthy. I took shorthand and asked a question to feed into what I hoped would be a lively arts piece, read my write-up here.

I've been doing plenty of work for VB lately so will post more links shortly. Right now, though, it's sunny so I intend to make a big sculpture out of beach clay… Photographic evidence will follow.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

This country's possible war crimes and where to find the best bowl of chips in London…

My interview with musical retro-dreamers Mike Champion and Michael Yates is now actually published along with my less trendy comment piece on IoW council cuts. Yayy.

Saturday's Masterclass in investigative reporting was great fun.

The first principle:

"If you encounter somebody who says 'I'm an investigative journalist' you're almost certainly dealing with someone who has quite a significant personality problem. All reporting is investigative."

As expected there were some manly stories - doorstepping pedophile ringleaders, tracking down Russian spies, fighting legal battles, which was all very inspiring. The pair were swamped at the bar by a crowd of admirers.

All in all the free bar provided the most intense social experience I've had in a while… Walking home, I was slightly adrift in it all - I'll break some of it down for you:

A Russian newspaper editor, originally from the UK, told me Britain is going to the dogs.

The wrong-doings of a cult were passionately laid out by a lady researching a book on the subject.

A financial journalist left me thinking that money is modernity's religion of choice (the financial system rests so heavily on faith).

The most unsettling story came from a man who left the R.A.F. following air strikes in Iraq. I paraphrase here so be aware it's unreliable. He was ver' drunk and I'm going from memory.

"They'll say 'oh those are bomb shelters, just go for the target, they'll be alright', but some of these American missiles, they're so huge and just" - he made an exploding gesture. "Then they say oh fuck, it's all gone. How many d'you reckon that was? 1000? 1500 people? All those poor buggers wiped out. They just don't care. They don't."

He muttered something about cover-ups, made his excuses and left, saying he would come back later. He didn't.

It was a sad encounter, particularly as he'd been beaming at me a few minutes before, when I was making an overblown statement about a sixties renaissance.

My question is this: is nostalgia always directed fifty years into the past? Why aren't we cool anymore?

Perhaps we're just practical… Back in the 1950s, less than a third of young people thought being rich was an important life goal. Now, more than 70% say so.

Well since so many of us are unemployed and skint at the moment, will we reject that model of success completely? Is this a new dawn for genius-losers? I still find a lot of young men thrilled to discover Kerouac's On the Road. Wow, let's just go and work the land, live in a trailer with migrant workers and hammer away at a typewriter! Suddenly, poverty seems like a lifestyle choice.

This neglects to mention the perviness of the novel. Underage prostitution? Oh that's fine because we're in Mexico! Well, no, actually. So I err on the side of 'loser' when it comes to Kerouac. Has nobody emerged since?

Thinking this through, I trumpeted optimistic slogans to a new friend I'd found wearing a trilby: 'Money's shit!' I said, 'there's no poetry in an easy life.'
"I said, there's NO POETRY in an EASY LIFE!"

At which he nodded, his eyes beer-lit, as if I'd said something profound.

Incidentally think the myth of retro-happiness is embodied in this performance, though I've no idea where it comes from. If we were all like this man, how frightening the world would be…
(Please ignore the title and web ad. attached to this YouTube video. I do not want to promote porn on my blog.)

So, that was an interesting evening. A couple of nice things have happened since then, as cheaply as possible.

First of all, I've witnessed Marina Diamantis cavorting in front of a fan. You won't forget it.

In terms of actual human interaction… on Sunday a friend treated my sister and I to lunch in Canary Wharf. The wind was howling round the skyscrapers, so we went back to his apartment for tea. I ogled his amazing collection of puppets, old books, big screens, steampunk jewellery and outfits, and he directed me to this article on the future of journalism.

Last night was good too. I went with sisters to The Lavender in Vauxhall and found the best bowl of chips for £2, perfectly crispy on the outside, perfectly fresh on the inside, honestly, they're a work of art. I got a friend to try one and her face transformed brilliantly.

"Mmm… You know - food. Sometimes, I just can't get over it."

In a fit of giggles I nearly spilled tomato juice everywhere. It was mostly Worcester sauce. Erk. What was the barman thinking? Perhaps it builds character.

We felt particularly celebratory because my unemployed sister is employed again! It only took… five months or something. My turn now. Hmm.

What was I saying? Oh yes! She's having a lovely time at the Natural History Museum, and has already had the wits scared out of her by human remains in the basement…

But that's her story to tell. I must get on. :)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Voluntary journalism on the Isle of Wight…

I've been staying with my parents on the Isle of Wight for the past week or so, building up my multimedia skills while applying for jobs. I've produced some charmingly local podcasts for Ventnor Blog, an extraordinary Isle of Wight news website.

Husband and wife team Sal and Simon have dedicated their lives to asking questions. In the time I spent in the office, they were working non-stop, on the phone to readers and councillors, moderating comments, plugged into Isle of Wight radio. I don't know how they sustain these ten-hour-a-day marathons with so little advertising, but they are a lot of fun to work with and had plenty to tell me about multimedia and interactive coverage.

"We're covering the Town Council elections today," said Sal. "We like to treat it like a national event, just to keep ourselves amused."

Outside the polling station with the rooks for company, I had a pleasant time discovering that people in Ventnor really care about roads,and got brief interviews with the voters and candidates.

On Saturday, my boyfriend and I went to a new Isle of Wight club night called Radieux. Read my review here! Island musicians The Shutes proved a thrilling discovery:

I secured an interview with Radieux's organisers Michael Champion (Shutes' frontman) and his mate Michael Yates. Champion invited me round for a cup of tea in a neighbouring village. His place was retro. I noted the vintage typewriter plonked on the coffee table.
"Yeah it's a beauty isn't it?" he said. "It doesn't work yet. I want to fix it up."

Mike's heavy cold made podcasting a bad idea, so I interviewed for a written piece about the pair's ambitions. This led onto sources of inspiration, feelings about the island, and musicians' enduring love affair with the 1960s. That night i wrote the piece up with the cat meowing at me and the wind howling outside. It won't be published until tomorrow though…

I seem to be doing my best work after darkness at the moment! Last night I went to a council meeting for Ventnor Blog. Lots of dusty voices discussing the same subject for four hours in fraught tones, then raising their hands along pre-ordained lines. I wrote about it until 3am.

There's a point at which energy becomes relentless… It had been a busy day and all. A creative friend and I decided to go to the beach in the pouring rain. I'd made the suggestion when it was sunny.

"No,we should go!" he insisted, as the heavens opened.
"You should wear wellies."
"No. No."
"Are you going to regret this?"
"Of course not!"
He didn't:


It seems the sea was lovely, and it wasn't muddy at all…


Actually, we slid through deep mud for at least a mile and I almost got stuck a couple of times. It was an adventure to exit mundanity and find ourselves at THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. The waves were immense… much taller than me. The kind of ferocity that can't be contained in a photograph.

This post has proved quite bitty and complicated - but I have one more piece of news. I'm off to London tomorrow for a weekend including an investigative reporting workshop with Nick Davies and David Leigh, which I'm quite excited about.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The wisdom of the soiree…

Good grief - what a disturbing picture is emerging from a recent survey of attitudes to rape victims. Women had better not have a trusting attitude in our society, no no no. We should stick to our sorry corners, shooting suspicious glances in all directions.

Yep. The world is looking a bit more frightening in general. My peaceful law-abiding sister was threatened with bailiffs this week.

“I have unwittingly incurred the Victorian Wrath of the Council,” she said. “I was not eligible to pay [tax]. I have informed them of this. An email from them suggested that was that, but now I've got a letter from them saying they'll be sending the bailiffs round next week to 'remove my goods and chattels' (my chattels? Am I a medieval wench?) unless I pay the money straightaway.”

Hmm. If logic doesn't prevail I suppose I could chain myself to her door in protest.

On Saturday, my boyfriend and I went to see a play called Money, which was terribly trendy and cutting edge. I was blown away by the warehouse setting and artistic touches (such as policemen in riot gear, handing out balloons!).

I was disappointed, however, by the lack of story. I could sense a theme, and wowee, the action took place above us and below us, all over the place! We could get involved, too, which was fun, throwing bouncy balls around.

"Thankyou for your money!" they said.

Fair enough, but while you were fannying about with cigars and perambulators, or whatever it is you avant-gardeians do, I thought you were going to tell me something?

"Bah!" we said, running off into the darkness. "Pseudo-surrealists!" That was that. The lack of any real message was enough to make me wish we'd seen this play instead.

Headed straight from there to a house party which was a bit more enlightening. Somebody talked to me about the concept of entropy (loosely, chaos) and how it relates to India at the moment.

It proved quite complicated.

On a less cogent note, I overheard this drunken heart-to-heart between two revellers:

“I think you’re actually quite shatteringly normal," she philosophised. "What do you dream about?”

“Well," he ventured. "I had a dream about ducks the other day.”

She sighed. “I don’t know anything about ducks. I’m a vegetarian.”


Perhaps she has taken it to a new level, and erased animals from her consciousness.

So I walked from Saturday to Sunday laughing about that. Sunday was Valentines Day wasn't it? What fun. My boyfriend took me to see the least appropriate film imaginable. Lots of blood and beatings! It proved a highly visceral experience.

I also visited a friend of mine in Cambridge yesterday. We went to the Zoology Museum and giggled at the grinning skeletal creatures. It was quite inspiring, artistically I mean. I scrawled some comics on the train and hope to post them here, when they’re rendered more competently in pen.

I didn't realise until I wrote this that a lot has happened in the past few days… Life has seemed relatively sedate after the intensity of the journalism course, which is now over. I've got 100wpm shorthand and everything, hooray.

So what's next? There's work experience pending on the Isle of Wight, but I am quite urgently looking for a source of income. In between applications, I have discovered Axe Cop, straight from the mind of a five year old genius.

I’ve also set up a flickr account for my prettier photos. :)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Swing, snow and homelessness


Journalists are a cynical bunch and I think could use a good dance sometimes.

On the other hand, it's also crazy to do this sort of thing. I saw a man tapdancing on London Underground, and asked my boyfriend about him.

"Have you seen a man tapdancing on the tube?"
"The crazy one? Yes EVERYBODY's seen him. Peace, I love you. That one. He does it in every carriage every day, of course I've seen him."

I watched a documentary once about religious dancing frenzies in the Middle Ages. People forgot to eat. Just like a rave? I don't think ecstasy existed in those days.

Personally, I prefer to dance all by myself in a massive space.

It has been snowing a lot, so college closed last week. Geet and I ventured out to find stories for the course paper.

We walked miles over the ice to a homeless shelter because the trains were so delayed.

We found a man who started using glue at the age of 11, and went wandering for years. He told us all about life in the sad old game:

"I used to justify it. I’d tell myself I was a different kind of addict, because I didn’t steal from anybody. But an addict is an addict at the end of the day. I went into rehab and said I’d never drink again, but it’s more socially acceptable to be a pisshead than a heroin addict. Sad but true. Everyone in here’s got problems. If we had cushty jobs we wouldn’t be in this sad old game.

"Methadone, I don’t know why they put people on it. I could go without heroin for a week, two weeks, but you want Methadone every day. I’ve learnt a lot about the damage drugs do to your body. Alcohol does more damage than crack or heroin. You put a cucumber in alcohol it turns into a pickle. You can’t turn a pickle back into a cucumber.

"I had a text message on the first of January to say a young guy I knew in Oxford died of a heroin overdose. Somebody injected him when he was drunk. He was asleep. He didn’t even use it. What a way to go."

Just some of what he said, all of which was interesting. It's one of the things that makes me love journalism. I'd never have thought to meet him otherwise.