Positively new news

IMG_8537Revolution is mustering in newsrooms across the globe. The new kid on the block – constructive journalism – is limbering up to salvage what’s left of the battered profession and the news it produces.

Journalism’s reputation is lying the gutter following decades of tabloid press running amok, phone tapping scandals, and now its latest moniker ‘fake news’.

The eruption in media channels at our fingertips hasn’t helped. Social media and handheld electronic devices have dislodged newspapers and TV as our only windows on the world. There’s no escape from digital news from the moment we wake bleary-eyed in the morning to the second we pass out exhausted at the end of the day. And with so many news organisations and channels with dwindling resources and fewer journalists, no wonder standards are slipping as they try and feed their 24/7 news beasts.

It’s also increasingly difficult to tell the difference between certified news organisations and unqualified bloggers. So what we get is too much negative news noise, lacking insight, and a large proportion inaccurate.

Constructive journalism is a new approach because it seeks to change how to report, rather than what to report. Yes it still analyses problems, but it also explores potential solutions. It examines what’s going right in the world – and why – rather than focusing solely on what’s going wrong. It aims to give people a fuller picture to re-engage and empower them, while still upholding journalism’s core functions and ethics.

The five questions of who, what, when, where and why are still answered, but now with a new dimension – what now? Investigating the ‘what now?’ part of the story is key.

In Denmark constructive journalism is already established, and in newsrooms in Sweden, Holland and South Africa its gathering support. In the UK the Constructive Journalism Project has delivered workshops to hundreds of journalism students, as well as freelance journalists, since it launched three years ago.

In this country you can read the magazine Positive News; newly re-launched online and in print after being crowd funded by a £1/4 million in a month. There are also online outlets such as Upworthy and the Huffington Post, in their What’s Working and Impact sections. The current BBC World Service series also runs stories in this format.

At the end of the day, people don’t want more news. They simply want better news; accurate, balanced and in context.

If journalism can learn to do this, it still might survive…


Drowned in moonlight

2104227176_f8c6b6a9e6_zDrowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. That’s what Carrie Fisher said she wanted her obituary to read.

And so it should, before it talks of her incredible legacy as a writer, producer, script doctor, humourist and campaigner raising awareness about mental health, drug abuse and female empowerment.

2016 will be remembered as the year of very public grieving. Such is the long and varied list of treasured icons who’ve thrown off their mortal coils these past 12 months, there’s someone on there for everyone to mourn; a pick and mix of sadness.

Carrie and Bowie are my heartfelt losses, although this is disingenuous to everyone else on that list. They’ve all touched my life one way or another.

There are of course all sorts of nonsense theories online about this perceived increase in celebrity deaths. Whether these conjectures have some semblance of truth or not, I don’t care.

The fact is she’s gone far too soon, and I will miss her. It’s not just her books in which she lay bare her heart and soul with such wit and bravery, her iconic films (in that galaxy far far away and those back on this planet whose scripts she penned). She’s inspired me for decades and taught me to blow a raspberry at the world when I need to.

On a more flippant level I will miss my daily attempts at trying to decipher her emoji written posts on her Twitter account, and following the adventures of Gary her beloved bulldog.

I’m thankful I managed to meet her earlier this year, if only for a few minutes, where I was knocked sideways by her grace, warmth and stunning beauty in person.

So I leave the last words to her, which I think she would appreciate. “You know what happens to old celebrities? They die or go to Vegas.”

Singing the runway blues

file000479808395My childhood is about to be bulldozed. With the government’s approval today to build a third runway at Heathrow, the future of the village of Sipson looks bleak.

489 Sipson Rd was my first home until I was five. Here I would sit in my pushchair in the front garden watching for dad to come home from work. Here, my brother would take me for sneaky rides on his scooter up and down the bumpy lane behind our row.

Looking at the map of the airport’s expansion I think this part of the village may survive. It depends of course on your definition of, ‘survive.’ What’s left of this place mentioned in the Doomsday Book will become stranded and sandwiched between the end of the new runway and the M4 spur road.

But for my first school – Heathrow Primary – it looks (according to the map) like there’s no escape. My first assembly hall singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ will be where passenger jets thud down in excess of 120mph. The irony that my brother used to race along the road outside in his Mini (me whooping in the back and speed phobic mum in the front) attempting similar speeds, isn’t lost on me.

I know I don’t remember much from that age, but what I do defines my childhood; my first tooth fairy visitation, first (and only so far) white Christmas, and following decimalisation sat at the living room table learning the new coins much faster than mum.

I still know which kitchen cupboard the sugar was hidden, and how to climb up when no-one was looking to stick my fingers into the jar. And I still remember creeping into the ‘strictly off limits’ haven of my brother’s room when he wasn’t in. Sorry Bruv.

I’ve been back several times in the last 45 years, when passing that way, taking a quick drive through. While writing this I also had a quick mooch around thanks to Google maps. I haven’t yet physically been inside my house or school, but I think I may try and do that now (if they’re kind enough to let me).

So, here’s to you Sipson. I cannot save you from the incoming hordes of machinery and impending concrete storm, but in my heart I can. I already have.


Historia est vitae magistra…

pompei-1A young couple strolling hand in hand, a group of students pretending to listen to their teacher, an elderly gentleman resting his legs watching the world go by. Welcome to the Roman city of Pompeiani.

Pompeiani 79 AD just before Vesuvius erased it from history for 2,000 years, or a sunny October morning in 2016? Take your pick. The clothes and the languages may be different, but mankind isn’t and Pompeii is still thriving – more so than ever. 20,000 people called it home when it ‘died’ and 2.5million now visit it every year.

I joined their number last week. There and nearby Herculaneum had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember and I was a little worried they wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

Silly me. Inspiring, heart stopping, wondrous; I won’t bore you with descriptive platitudes because they don’t do them justice. Both sites are preserved completely differently because of the way Vesuvius destroyed them. And I won’t bore you with the details how. Just Google it.

Pompeii is vast. It covers about 170 acres. You appreciate the majesty and grandeur of the place as you meander its streets, hopping across the pedestrian crossing stone steps, peering into shops and villas, and exploring their columned gardens. Although the upper floors are mostly gone, you get tantalising glimpses of bright ornate frescoes. Squint (as a good friend told me to) and you can imagine the buildings as they were. No such action needed with the amphitheatre, brothel and theatre. They’re beautifully intact – so much so Pink Floyd famously performed in the amphitheatre in 1971 because of its unsurpassed acoustics even today.

It’s a fallacy that everyone died in Pompeii when Vesuvio rained down her fury. When archaeologists dug out the buildings they found much of the furniture gone. People had evacuated. Not only did they have the time to get out, they could escape over land. Only those too ill to travel, and looters stayed.

Not so for the nearby and much smaller town of Herculaneum. With the sea one side and the volcano the other, people were trapped and the hundreds of skeletons of women and children huddled together in terror in the tunnels down by the former waterside atone to that. It is a heart wrenching sight – many are cuddling and looking at each other – so much so it felt inappropriate and disingenuous to take their photos. (Their menfolk, by the way, had stood guard outside meaning their remains were obliterated. Ever wondered where ‘women and children first’ comes from? Now you know.)


In Herculaneum you can touch the humanity of its people. It’s more personal. Around every corner you gasp at the entirety of the place. It’s like a film set 70 per cent built. Here many of the upper storeys (some have three) survive along with wooden balconies, while the frescoes scream at you with their vibrancy and detail. From the outside the way the wood and brick is woven together reminded me of Tudor design. But in the UK we were still living in wattle and daub huts, and shitting in holes.

My favourite goose bumps moment was leaning in a doorway of a baker’s (with the oven behind me) sheltering from a welcome shower, glancing up and down the street, as people scurried by. I was connected to those lost in time who’d stood in that exact spot doing exactly the same thing, seeing through their eyes. We were one.

Exploring both sites, you see signs of archaeologists at work trying to preserve the buildings. But with every earthquake – Vesuvio is but resting – a little bit more crumbles and crashes to the ground. This is the sad irony. Pompeiani and Herculaneum are not saved. They and the 3.5million people now living in the Bay of Naples are still ruled by the giant sleeping goddess dominating the skyline. It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ she blows again. Vesuvio is well overdue a major eruption and this one will be as devastating as in 79 AD.

Call it what you like: Deja vu, history repeating itself, whatever.  The ancient Romans would say, “Historia est vitae magistra” – quite simply ‘history is the teacher of life.’ So please ‘Carpe Diem’ Pompeiani and Herculaneum while you can.

Celebrity worshipfoolness

IMG_6453Moments before this photo was taken I was jumping about like a loon, clapping my hands with excitement and making “squee” noises. I may have even accosted the person next to me in the queue.

Carrie Fisher, ever the consummate professional borne from Hollywood royalty, didn’t bat an eyelid although no doubt was thinking nutter! And she was quite right.

But I’m not the only person who goes to pieces when they meet a personal icon in the flesh. And I won’t be the last. Why do we make idiots of ourselves?

I’m supposed to be a seasoned media professional. I’ve met countless politicians, celebrities and VIPs during my career and managed (mostly) to conduct the conversations as a fairly intelligent and sensible being. But put one of my heroes in front of me and I lose the plot.

My problem – and if you know me you’ll find this unbelievable – is that my ability to talk or communicate in any form suddenly evades me. Poor Patrick Stewart experienced this when I stood dumbly before him, in one of the few occasions I went mute at work – just gaping at him, mouth wide open. After a few moments looking bemused he took charge and started spouting the answer to a question I could have asked; a rundown of the theatre and movies projects he was about to start. And still I didn’t move or speak. I would have happily stood there all day mesmerised by his voice.

Madonna I ‘stalked’ after she came out of a Shepperton sound stage in front of me with the aim of catching up with her, to what end I still have no idea. This was going well until she turned and glared at me. So I bottled it, and shot down the nearest alley.

‘Stalking’ appears to be a theme. I followed Steve Martin in a New York bookshop, peering at him round and through bookshelves, before queuing up behind him at the till (even though I didn’t really want my purchase). Again, not a word uttered, with him shuffling forward away from me as fast as he could. Richard E Grant also adopted this uncomfortable foot dance when stood behind him waiting to board a plane. I’m not sure it helped when my daughter aged nine at the time, stood between us shouting, “Where mummy? Richard who, mummy?”

David Bowie was another failure of mouth and mind. When he spoke I replied “wibble” in the vein of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder character pretending to be mad with two pencils stuck up his nose. We all know that in times of stress the brain blurs the memory to make it easier for the victim to cope. My recall thankfully glosses over Bowie’s reaction. To this day I don’t think I could bear that memory.

With Russell Crowe, husband and I peered at him through the smokers’ crowd outside a West End pub. I was powerless when I ramped up the decibels and cackled even louder than my usual annoying laugh. His raised right eyebrow, and alarmed glance my way, says it all.

But back to Carrie. (Notice Gary her dog had me well and truly pegged. No pretence at politeness there.) Ironically I did manage to utter a complete and coherent sentence, saying I was looking forward to reading her new book. There were two whole seconds when she smiled and was about to answer, before her security hustled me out of the door…

Losing your festival virginity at 50

BoardmastersMusic festivals have been rocking for about the same number of years I’ve been tapping my foot, so it’s very shoddy to take me this long to do one properly.

I went to Reading Festival a couple of years ago swanning in for a daytime, to see headliners Muse, beating a retreat after their set back to the comforts of gentile civilisation. It was the same at Victorious Festival in Portsmouth, for Ocean Colour Scene: a single day incursion.

No overnights. No tent ‘hotel’.

Acres of mud, festival toilets, and wet wipe showers had never appealed to me. They still don’t in theory. But last week I discovered I’d been a plonker all these years by avoiding the full experience. Dear festival gods, I repent.

Begrudgingly, I was persuaded by good friends to bop along to the Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall. Colleagues at work had teased me that the average age of people attending this event was 18 to 30, and when I looked at the band line-up on its website I could only recognise a few names.

Was I looking forward to three days of this? Fuck no.

Husband thankfully was embracing the idea and had armed us with a festival trolley and hiking backpacks so we looked the part when we joined the snake of pony-laden partygoers trudging the never-ending mile or so between the car park and entrance.

Once there we found a teeny space for our tiny tent sandwiched among thousands of twenty something’s. We were so packed in the tent guide ropes overlapped.

I had a blast.

Let me say that again. I HAD A BLAST.

My fears about being and looking too old for this sort of thing say more about my own insecurities. We weren’t the most wrinkly and saggy by any means and one of my favourite sights was a guy in his 70s busting some totally awesome dance grooves. Sunglasses, I discovered, hide all evils. I was even asked for proof of age ID at the bar, no doubt for the last time in my life. The chap’s face when I removed my sunnies was priceless.

Yes there were clichés. A soiled festival toilet once seen inside can never be unseen, and I never knew faeces could be used so creatively as wall paint or for constructing pyramids.

Wet wipes are a satisfactory temporary alternative to washing. Soapy water didn’t touch me throughout, and my hands were only sticky from lashings of hypoallergenic hand gel. There was mostly a two-hour queue for the showers, and the irony of watching people standing waiting in the rain made me chuckle. (By the way it took two showers and a bath to feel squeaky again, once back in the real world.)

Rain – the stalwart of festivals. We were lucky there wasn’t enough of it to give birth to quagmires. Shame because by then I was right up for some mud surfing.

I loved the suspended reality of this makeshift community, with its established female uniform of shorts, wellington boots, and sparkly face paint. The chaps were also embracing the sparkling facial look and in some cases suiting them far more.

Sleeping was an acquired talent, with the funfair and camping village club banging on into the early hours. But after walking an average of 16,000 steps each day – helpfully logged by my phone app – utter exhaustion easily outweighed the noise.

All of this paled against the music. That’s the point I’d been missing. It’s a MUSIC festival.

Rock, jazz, pop, disco, folk, rap, soul. I danced, jigged, swayed, threw my hands in the air, sang, and couldn’t get enough of it. Wall to wall, stage to stage, field-to-field music. I kept a band diary of my favourites so I can now find and download them. My musical palate has been energised, educated, and enlarged.

Check out my personal favourites Wolf Alice, Sloes, Lucy Anna, Jamie Lawson, Michael Kiwanuka, Jonahs Lift, White Denim, and Soul II Soul. Sorry Kaiser Chiefs – you were disappointingly plastic.

The location – a cliff top valley next to Newquay with stunning sea and coastline views – was just perfect. And the event was well organised. Thumbs up to the Boardmasters team.

So here’s to next year’s festival season. Bring it on, although we may investigate a cosy B&B nearby or luxury glamping on site. The overnight in a pop-up tent box has now been truly ticked.

In touch with your inner bag lady

file0001532240850Well done England. It’s been a dismal year with the passing of many icons, our shortfalls in sporting prowess (come on you Olympians) and the Brexit divide. But stand up and give yourself a round of applause. When it comes to redefining plastic bags we’re brilliant.

In the six months since the 5p charge was introduced for plastic bags in shops, our usage of them has dropped by 85 per cent. That’s six billion five hundred million less.

My writer brain naturally balks at numbers, but even I can tell that’s a pretty banging result.

These Defra figures are the first official assessment of the impact of the change, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife.

England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England as usual is the last to join the party, but of course once there is totally up for it giving it loads in the middle of the dance floor.

The skills needed to achieve this major shift in first world problem public behaviour appears to resonate with the English psyche. It seems we’re nation of closet bag ladies and putting aside initial huffs and puffs have elevated the status of the carrier bag to something just short of sacred. Is it the appeal of shoving two fingers up at big business, saving money, and engaging planning and forethought just to walk into a store tooled up with bags? Who knows. But thank goodness I’m not alone in this.

How many of you now carry assorted shopper bags in the boot of your car or have a special corner in your home where you keep them? I bet some of you even have acquired some on your travels abroad giving your collection an exotic feel.

What about carrying stealth bags around with you? You know, the pac a mac type that concertinas inside-out to slip into a cover cleverly built in its lining, ready in to lurk unobtrusively in your handbag/ man bag/ holdall (whatever) and jump into action. I’ve noticed a growing kudos in certain types from certain retailers. I’ve overheard comments such as, “oh you’ve got one of those, good aren’t they?” or “love the design of that one,” at work, on the train, and of course in the English institution queueing for the till.

And how many of you covet the now rare ‘lesser spotted’ plastic bag when one comes into your possession? I don’t know about you but I find they are perfect as freezer bags, or for entombing your leaky water bottle in your rucksack. I’ve become rather zealous making sure the few I have aren’t wasted on frippery.

So what next – plastic bags sold on eBay as collector’s items? Yeah, yeah, you laugh. “It’ll never happen.” Guess what. Already is.