Monday, 27 June 2011


Everyone loves where they grew up, don't they? Don't they?

I did. I didn't when I finally reached the age where cinemas and nightclubs required driving and crashing on floors but before that mini-watershed, that major irritation which led me all the way to the heady heights of....Plymouth, well I loved it. I still do.

I understand the way nostalgia works. I know it casts a filter (tilt-shift?) across all your memories. Except on this I am confused because my childhood was....complicated, and so there is no reason for me to remember through glowing eyes, instead only for everything to be cast in grey. And yet. And so. A siren call for a man also entwined within my memories, but here lies only the good.

I grew up 'down the road' from Glastonbury. But I also grew up down the road from Lyme Regis. From Bridport. From Minehead and Weston Super Mare. From Exmoor and Dartmoor, Exeter and Bristol. I grew up in the middle of quite the most beautiful, remote, peaceful, heavenly place. Flat, mind. Something I never understood my mother banging on about, you know. Not until I moved back to the county where I was born and left before I knew it and understood the siren call of hills and mountains and being on a level with the top of everything and then suddenly I understood.

I've run up Glastonbury Tor and reached the top a little out of breath. I have climbed painfully to the top, dying quietly on the way up, cursing the lunatics who thought putting a hill in that configuration was a good idea. I've sat with my eyes closed as the sun set, I've sat with my eyes open watching the sun rise, the resonating notes of a didgeridoo accompanying both. I've walked up it following the paths and I've walked up it following the paths.

But it's not just that. I've walked down country lanes in silence. Utter and complete silence. No planes, no cars, no people, no bikes, no helicopters (you live in Somerset? You know that's relevant), no microlights. I say in silence, but of course it never is, because the corn rustles in the breeze, the birds call to each other, the beez buzz and the sun shines. It shines on and on and on, in my memories but also in my photographs. The lanes are lined with foxgloves and cow parsley, after the passage of the poppies and cornflowers which were preceded by the primroses and snowdrops. The rhythm of the year is measured and marked, harvest festivals, easter fetes, may days with may poles and ribbons and learning the steps and always forgetting them again. I country danced in front of the cathedral at Wells. I walked for miles in the cold which felt terrible causing chilblains and white fingers, icicles inside the window but actually were no cold at all compared to how cold it is here. We cycled for miles in the sunshine, crashing out whenever we needed to, snatching sneaky cigarettes in the corners of farmers fields, on the wall at the bottom of the car park, or up the tree at the back of the local park. We spent hours on that wall, come rain or shine, occasionally with chips and curry sauce to warm us up from the Chinese (the only Chinese in a 15 mile radius) around the corner.

I've watched endless carnivals. Not many people know about Somerset's insane obsession with decorating flatbed trucks with a metric tonne of lights, festooned with people dancing (tied on to their perilous perches with hidden climbing harnsesses). Or the fair which rivals Nottingham's. I only went once to the Bridgwater fair but I'll never forget it. I've driven and ridden past endless neon cardboard arrows pinned to signposts and road names, and finally found out what they were for one night when we followed them into somewhere North of Taunton and the tunes and DJ's and people from school who didn't expect to see me there all came together and suddenly the pitch shifted every so slightly.

I might have been born in Lancashire and I love Lancashire, so I do. My mother is from here and it seems appropriate that circles close. But I am a hippy at heart, a child allowed to run free for less than charitable reasons but free nevertheless and my heart belongs to Nag Champa and patchwork, to treadles and spinning, to picking fruit and actually making jam and pies with it (endless pies, endless jams), to folkish music and common land used well and properly, to horses used well and properly, to chocolate box covers the tourists haven't discovered yet, to rope swings and splashes, to jam jars full of minnows, to climbing trees and learning to map read, to eyes full of wonder and mist and hope and endless beauty.

Somerset is endless beauty. Summer land. Sun sets. Split heart.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Home sweet home

I'm pining for a home that is no more, right now. I grew up in Somerset. My family are still in Somerset. Most of my childhood friends never left. I'm the one who's roamed and wandered and explored as much of the country as possible.

I haven't been back since I visited my mum after after her operation 3 years ago. We haven't visited since because my mother has not, in the 16 years since I left home at 18 ever come to visit me and I lost my patience, finally.

Recent events at this end of the country, where I moved because of a boy, have served a reminder that home is where the heart is and I miss Somerset and my mum really rather a lot.

Unfortunately, it seems I will need to make the journey back alone. But I think it's time to make it no matter how hard it might be. She's not the same after a head lamp post interface - maybe that's why she never calls, never emails, never speaks. I don't know. Maybe she forgets I exist. I don't know that either. But even if my mother doesn't care much, I care about a random sequence of fields which I grew up in, roamed across, fell over in and cycled through.

Yep, it's Glastonbury time. And every year it hurts. It's as much a part of Somerset as the Lord Majors show is part of London. It's a rollicking spread of imagination let loose. It's no edges and no limits. It's sunsets watched slowly while getting quietly drunk. It's dreams made real in crazy sculptures and suits relinquished in favour of tutus and mankinis. It's 4.5 miles of utter insanity and I want to go back because it's tied to me, because it epitomises a lost Somerset which has disintegrated beneath the wheels of a 4 x 4, because you can try and make Glastonbury as refined as you like but it will always always always be about the hippies and the politics and the right to disagree, to me.

I remember how it used to be, I experienced, very briefly, how it used to be and by the sounds of it, Michael Eavis is slowly realising there were merits in how it used to be. It used to be a temporary town called freedom and it needs to be reborn.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Engrossed by design

I've disappeared a little into analogue recently - I've become absolutely obsessed with typography and magazines. It started with Stack Magazines - a subscription service where you get sent a different magazine every month on rotation from a group of 'independent' magazines that are slightly quirky - so Wire, Little White Lies, Oh Comely, to name but a few. It's hit and miss but I really love the ethos.

Then I did some research on bike magazines to further feed my obsession and discovered The Ride, Rouleur, Privateer and Boneshaker, among many many others (though those are the ones which I think will persist when the whole fixie frenzy has died down).

From there, it's been a wonderful and rewarding journey via Frankie, Make, Fire and Knives, Sew, Monocle....resulting in subscriptions to not only Stack, but Singletrack and Wired UK.

By now, you're probably thinking 'how can one person read all of those magazines'. Well, I have a confession to make. Quite easily. I finished reading Frankie 70 minutes after opening the cover on the bus journey into Manchester this morning. I can read half of Boneshaker in bed before I go to sleep. My RSS feed would probably terrify a lot of people - it doesn't really keep me occupied. I was consuming masses of information that was work related but due to various factors, not least feeling entirely burnt out and watching my motivation disappearing quickly down the pan, there is a space where the work reading once was and instead of local government I instead read about beautiful fabrics, beautiful dresses, beautiful journeys and beautiful bikes, perhaps in the hope that some of the beauty will rub off on me. All of these magazines are beautifully designed, all are beautifully laid out. All are full of elegant and precise words and prose, accompanied by excellent illustrations.

And perhaps that's the attraction. The web is not. Whether we like it or not, the nods to accessibility and IE6 in local government mean that I spend my day looking at websites which are, at best, functional, and most of the time not even that. They're minimal and workmanlike. They're completely focussed on delivering information and transactions as quickly and as painlessly as possible - they are not designed to intrigue, nor to warm, to elicit laughter nor pique curiosity.

My magazines are a defence against the utilitarian necessity of simplicity. They are a rebellion.

There will always be a place for analogue in my life.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Facebook vs privacy

I'm getting a little tired of this, I thought, as I read an article explaining that Facebook had rolled out yet another change to their service without notifying anyone, and one which has potentially massive consequences some well paid advisor seems to have completely overlooked.

I'm referring, of course, to the automatic facial recognition and subsequent tagging technology which Facebook has just rolled out and been forced to apologise for. But lets start at the beginning because the beginning isn't here. The beginning of this story is with this article on Cnet among other sites which quoted Facebook Vice President of Product as saying "Once you know that, you can remove the tag, or you can promote it to your friends, or you can write the person and say, 'I'm not that psyched about this photo.'"

We'll come back to the utter stupidity of that statement in a moment.

Meanwhile, there is the calm before the storm in this article which explains that the 'feature' has launched. The key word in the entire article, I think, is the word quietly. I didn't know this was coming and I read quite a bit and try and least nod my head in the direction of keeping up with social media developments. One questions exactly why a company, who 6 months ago was singing the praises of a technological development they'd achieved, suddenly decided to go ahead with the launch but ever so quietly. Surely if you had reservations about the launch, that you needed to be tippy toey about it, you'd not launch it at all?

I'm guessing the words 'floating' and 'stocks we haven't even officially sold yet' are playing a part here. And that's worrying, because this is peoples privacy which is being sacrificed at the alter of corporate stakeholder satisfaction. This is not selling a product. This is, I think, about ultimately selling data. And then there's that slightly unfortunate issue with Google - not great for your share price you don't have yet either. 

So what's my problem?

How stupid do you have to be to not learn from the first time you made a mistake and set something to opt out instead of opt in? How stupid do you have to be to not understand that there is only so much damage your brand can take before users abandon you? Has no one learnt how fickle users can be on the internet yet? Has no one over in silicon valley been reading the slightly nervous sounding and increasingly frequent editorials about bubbles bursting yet again?

But that's not the thing really baking my noodle right now. No. Lets go back to the quote from the VP at Facebook:
"Once you know that, you can remove the tag, or you can promote it to your friends, or you can write the person and say, 'I'm not that psyched about this photo."

Or, and this is just another scenario off the top of my head, you can write the person and say 'I'm not that psyched about this photo' and they can turn around and say 'sorry sister, but you ran off with my boyfriend, no way am I deleting this photo of you which makes you look like a complete idiot and in the process ruin any chance of anyone ever employing you ever again'

Or, maybe you can write them and say 'I'm not that psyched about this photo because my psycho father who I have moved to another State to get away from, via a refuge and a few intervening years doesn't know what I look like and I have been incredibly careful about which Facebook photos get tagged with me and all my friends knew it was quite important not to tag me in Facebook photos but thanks to this new facial recognition software, and me not noticing, every photo I've ever been in but not been tagged on can now be seen by the entire world, because even if my privacy settings are locked down tight, I am now completely and utterly at the mercy of every other person in the entire worlds privacy settings who has a photo on their profile which I happen to be in - even if it's waaaaay in the background and I happened to be walking by accidentally'

You think I'm reaching?

Okay, how about the one where a 10 year marriage breaks up because someone is caught in a photo in the background passing by - caught somewhere where they shouldn't be.

The implications are endless. And that's before you've taken the vindictive and frankly sometimes downright nasty environment of high schools and secondary schools into account.

I may be forced to use Facebook as part of my job, I may have to have an account for testing purposes and because all social invites are placed there these days, but don't expect me to have anything but scorn for a company and a system which is free, oh yes it is, but is taking advantage of peoples unfamiliarity with tech at every turn and doing the equivalent of what banks were doing in the 80's with small print - intentionally confusing and overwhelming people so they didn't bother to read anything and just signed on the dotted line.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Class poor: Money rich

I have taken the Guardian Oxbridge bashing with a pinch of salt, until last week when it seemed to blow up from the odd tweets here and there into something far more loud and obnoxious.

The lady I submitted my work to at the Guardian probably has no idea about my background. I could have, if I'd wanted to, applied for the full time job of what I have been doing for a bit now as a freelance, as I was pointed in the direction of the advert. I could, if I'd wanted to, applied for the job of the person I submitted content to, but decided not to. In both cases, I was very kindly and gently made aware of the posts being open. 

It was a kind and appreciated acknowledgement that I am out of the normal loop up here. That I might not have been aware that the posts were there. That I might be suitable for something and should apply even if I didn't get an interview. 

She didn't have to. As a result of her kindness and patience, of her editing and red pen, I am a better writer, capable of self editing not only my own articles, but my own reports at work as well. 

She didn't have to. And if you believe some people, that she did goes against everything they believe because I am most definitely out of the Oxbridge network and I suspect she might be in it though frankly it is absolutely no business of mine as far as I am concerned.

You see, kindness, support, nurturing and help are not class related. There are other people who have and are helping me enormously, with free kit, with free advice, with loaned bikes, with loaned pedals. I try and pass it on because this is what bikers do, this is what good, decent, kind and caring people do. And those things, they are not class related and to think they are is stupidity.

My grandmother, who I never met, was a working class Cork girl. Proper working class. And her door was always open and at Xmas the table was full, places taken not just by 4 children but by neighbours and friends because that is what you did.

Just because our world is digital does not mean that the kindness of strangers has disappeared and it does not mean that people like my grandmother do not exist either. And what relevance has an education at a university or an upbringing in a certain suburb got anyway?

Well I know from bitter experience - connections. But you know, there are two camps. There are those who are ignorant of the luck they had to be born where they were born and those who are not and who feel some compulsion to assist those who were not so lucky and frankly, my experience of the Guardian so far has been that it contains many more of the latter than the former. 

I might sound posh. But everything else about me from my weight to my confidence levels, my self esteem to my stumbling social niceties screams working class. I am working class. Poor means different things to different people, of course. And I suspect people have no concept of what poor is who think that I could not have been. Poor is nagging hunger all the time. It's waking up with icicles on the inside of your bedroom. It's needing 3 pairs of socks and 2 jumpers, it's one bath a week cos it costs and one pair of jeans per year and all your clothes being second hand until Primark came along at which point some new stuff started appearing. It's no new books, it's pennies left in the purse at the end of the week, it's owing the local corner shop for a loaf of bread, it's hunger and cold and constant arguments as yet another bill comes in and no pocket money and constant chores and no music and no nice things and presents being taken back to the shop after Xmas and.....

You will not find me taking anything for granted. You will not find me being terribly wonderful at managing money. You will find me occasionally sat on the sofa holding some random object in my hand with a big grin on my face. You will find me buying experiences, buying escape and explore, pushing the edges and finding my way a little later than everyone else around me. You will find a slightly different world view.

But take it from me, a girl with a different background to most of you - I've been reading The Guardian most of my life, on and off, and you know why? It tells me things I want to know. It teaches me shit. It speaks to me in my language on my terms.

I don't give a flying squirrel where the person was educated who writes the words. I just care that I can still afford the frikking newspaper. Cos trust me, there was a time I couldn't.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

New journalist != old journalist

New journalist does not equal old journalist. But you can be both. You can respect both. And while you do, you can be questioning the nature, repeatedly, of what it is to be a journalist in this modern age.

I call myself a freelance writer. I am not a journalist in my mind, though I suspect if things come to pass as they appear to be the lines of how you view me will change even if the lines for me do not. Because you see, I believe the terminology of old media is now defunct and that we need to redefine them somehow.

Internal discussions this morning involved an ex trad print local newspaper journalist referring to the chap behind The Northerner blog on The Guardian as a journalist. It brought me up short. He isn't. He's a pro blogger in that context, surely? But she doesn't know there are such things - his words are on the Guardian website and therefore he is a journalist.

Can you be a journalist without a qualification? I do not have one and I cannot do shorthand and frankly, am getting along just fine without. I will record and transcribe if I need to, rather than resort to what to me look akin to ancient hieroglyphs. Tech is there to enable me, and I shall take full advantage.

Am I a pro blogger? Well yes, at the moment, based on what has been published so far. But that is about to change, and yet the stuff which people will shortly be reading from me is not journalism either.

You see, in my head, journalists interview people. Journalists investigate. Journalists acquire a story. They do not speak of the things which they already know. And yet by that definition, the things I write of I don't always know and one of the things that I enjoy the most about writing is the impetus to discover and research those things I've been curious about for a while but never found time.

So am I a journalist simply by definition of having some words published which I researched and investigated? Well no because then anyone could become a journalist and journalism is most definitely still a respected profession and quite rightly so.

So does it depend on the website you are published on? Are there certain websites upon which, if your words are featured, there is automatic journalism status bestowed on the person who contributed the words?

Does it depend on time spent per day or week or month writing those words? Do you become a journalist only when you do it full time, even when you are still freelancing?

Or do we need to simply accept that a journalist is what someone is when they construct and contribute articles to traditional media and what we are all doing who are purely digital is something different? Do I believe the quality of my writing is good enough for print? Not sure - that call is someone elses to make at some point in the future, not mine. But personally, really deep down, journalism is the playground the big kids play in, the serious kids, the kids with received pronunciation. It is not a place where working class kids from estates who grew up on the poverty line belong. It just isn't. 

So what, exactly, is it that I do?