Review – The Worst Witch, Royal Theatre Northampton (show seen, Sunday Dec 9)
THEY are pretty tough to impress, ten-year-old girls. They’ve just reached that eye-rolling, arm-folding kind of age. Gone are the days when they’d fall about at a fart noise or a silly face. Three of them – my daughter and her two […]
If you’re a parent in Northamptonshire be sure to drop in to Old Scout’s Rugby Club tomorrow afternoon (Sunday July 15) for tea, cake and chatter about parenting.
This is the launch of the Parent Project, which will see two young mums collect the experience of other parents to write a new play. The project also hopes to bring together folk in the same boat, and relieve some of the loneliness that may be felt by those enjoying the task of bringing up young children.
The project will lead to a show in collaboration with Warts and All Theatre.
Click the link to find out more and book a free ticket to the launch
Do you use coffee capsules? Do you wonder whether they decompose fully? The University of Northampton is looking for volunteers to take part in a project that will focus on examining the compostability of selected coffee capsules. It will run from July – November 2017. Participants will be provided with a free composting bin and the coffee capsules. They will be tasked with monitoring the process over the period of about three months, and providing researchers with the data. Support will be provided throughout the process by the research team, if required. Participants will be chosen on a first come, first served basis.
Our youngest, Bonnie, had been to five festivals before her fifth birthday.
Due to our largish family, it was always cheaper to do a festi-hol, but by 2014 the elder ones had started to get jaded and wanted to do ‘normal’ holidays. We did like the masses and had a couple of short trips to Spain and a drive through Europe.
Then Camp Bestival announced Fat Boy Slim and Tears for Fears were headlining for 2016 and I couldn’t resist.
So here we are again, blazing sunshine, our trusty 20-year-old Japanese Bongo van and an awning propped on a windy hill in Dorset.
So far we’ve watched the kids make a den in the Dingly Dell, shoot crossbows with the Tudors, stuff their faces with posh ice-cream and organic salad (and chips) and enjoyed acts as eclectic as Turin Brakes and Mr Motivator.
Two days to go, so far, so good!
Festival fever – after Glastonbury, here’s your round-up of festivals for summer 2016 in Northants and beyond
(Originally commissioned for Northants Herald and Post)
THE British weather is as unpredictable as ever, which can only mean one thing: it’s the start of the festival season.
As the mother of all music festivals, Glastonbury, has just taken place in all its muddy glory, we bring you a round up of some of the hundreds of UK festivals in Northamptonshire and beyond and some advice for those thinking about going for the first time with the family.
If you’re travelling with babies and toddlers, festival camping can be daunting, but a couple of fun days in a festival field can be easier to handle – and cheaper – than having to fly abroad in school holidays.
You need to accept that everything might not be operating-theatre-sterile for a couple of days, but there’s little that can’t be sorted with a multitude of various wet wipes.
A travelcot may seem like a heavy thing to lug to your campsite but it will allow peace of mind if your smaller offspring are prone to wander.
Take a tent that you KNOW how to put up in advance and if possible, invest in your own small trolley or wheelbarrow. Days can involve a lot of walking and it’s easier to entice a squealing toddler into a blanket-lined barrow than an unwieldy buggy that’s lost a wheel. Pack a set of warm clothes for evenings as it can get chilly (all-in-one rainsuits for kids are worth bringing) and give loads of time to get to stages for a favourite act.
Inevitably you won’t see everything on the line-up – sometimes you’ll just need to chill out with the kids and listen from a distance for your own sanity’s sake. Letting your bigger kids off the leash to wander without you may feel like a worry, but it’s an essential part of growing up and you should make sure they have a watch and regular meeting points. Don’t rely on phones as signal and battery life are usually limited.
Rucksacks and bumbags work better than handbags, cashpoints will be on site but be prepared to queue and pay fees, and you’ll probably survive with lots of socks but just two pairs of footwear – trainers and wellies.
If you’re bringing food, but only want to cook with minimal effort, a camping stove and kettle, cereal bars, tortilla wraps and noodles weigh little and can save you a fortune on festival food. Disposable barbecues are great if allowed and packet bacon will last a couple of days in a coolbox. Tea bags, coffee and UHT milk will feel like luxuries and you’ll be glad you invested in that multipack of earplugs from Boots.
Festival line-up for summer 2016.
Glastonbury, June 22-26, Pilton, Somerset. SOLD OUT.
Featuring: Muse, Adele, Coldplay, Foals, Beck, ELO
FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance), June 24-26, Fulham, London.
First year of this Chic and Nile Rodgers curated weekend, with Beck, John Newman, Alison Moyet, Thompson Twins
Love Supreme, Lewes, July 1-3
Featuring: Grace Jones, Burt Bacharach, Lianne La Havas, Kelis
British Summertime with Barclaycard, Hyde Park, London, July
This sees various big names for all music tastes play throughout the month, including Massive Attack, Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX, Patti Smith, Carole King, Florence and the Machine, Take That and Olly Murs, Alabama Shakes and the Mumfords.
Northampton Town Festival, Racecourse, Northampton, July 2-3. FREE.
OK, so not strictly a music and camping festival, but the first year the town show and hot air balloons have been on the Racecourse for some time. A huge festival of family fun over two days.
Tannerfest, Loddington, Northants, July 9.
A firm fixture on the Northants music scene, this small but perfectly formed event is a laid-back day out for all the family.
Wireless, Finsbury Park, London, July 8-10.
Featuring: Calvin Harris, Chase & Status, Jess Glynne, Disciples, J Cole, KYGO, Boy Better Know. wirelessfestival.co.uk/
Electric Daisy Carnival, Milton Keynes Bowl, July 9
Massive dance music event featuring headliners Avicii, Axwell, Martin Solvig.
Lovebox, Victoria Park, London, July 15-16.
Featuring Jack Garrett, Major Lazer, Diplo, Kano, Stormzy, Jungle, Chet Faker.
Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon, Cambs, July 21-24.
Featuring: Primal Scream, Air, Caribou
Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset, July 28-31.
The little sister of September megafest Bestival and a favourite of our clan, this is a great place to kick off the school holidays and start festivaling with the family, and you’re quite likely to see former music stars chilling out with their own young ‘uns as well as the world’s largest bouncy castle. This year’s line up features Fatboy Slim, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, Katy B, Bananarama and Jess Glynne, with turns from Dick and Dom and Mr Tumble.
Green Man festival, Brecon Beacons, Wales, August 18-21
Featuring Belle & Sebastian, James Blake, Warpaint and Laura Marling
V Festival, Staffordshire and Chelmsford, August 20-21
H&P Ed is feeling very old; he attended the first one of these back in ’96. The big names are flying in for this year’s V Festival with Justin Beiber, Rihanna, Sia, David Guetta, faithless, the Kaiser Chiefs, Little Mix and All Saints on the list.
Atomic vintage festival, Sywell Aerodrome, Northants, Aug 20-21
This 1950s-themed festival features music, pre-1963 cars and hot-rods, lots of food ideas and stalls, set in the aerodrome and surrounds over two days.
Reading and Leeds festivals, August 26-28.
The traditional after-exam-results experience for teens, this year’s line up across the two cities includes The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fall Out Boy, Foals, Disclosure, Vaccines, Eagles of Death Metal and Biffy Clyro.
Shambala, Kelmarsh Hall, Northants, Aug 25-28.
This is a lovely family festival with a real eco-ethos and a huge sense of humour. Dressing up is encouraged and while the stages usually feature less-well-known but excellent musicians, they’ve brought in the 80s soul divas Sister Sledge to headline on Friday. The circus and arts fields are always amazing.
Work experience in journalism – an essential part of training for all or an outdated concept only accessible to the well-off?
GAINING work experience before getting a career may be the trend for many jobs today, but for journalists it has been a standard requirement for decades.
There are few editors or broadcasters who will not have started out their career on the bottom rung of the ladder as a cub reporter, and to get those traineeships you always needed to show enthusiasm by volunteering in your ‘spare time,’ as a ‘workie,’ willing to type up sports results, proof village correspondents’ copy, shadow ‘real’ reporters and make the tea.
It made for some loose equality and understanding in an industry that often means more than just a regular hard day at the office. Most pre-internet journalists, even those who climbed the ladder into management, will have experienced a death-knock, a murder scene, a grim sexual-abuse court case and several missing-kid stories.
It is only in recent years, since the traditional ‘prof-test’ training route has been overtaken by university journalism degrees, that would-be hacks are now also expected to be graduates. But they are all still expected to get at least one stint of work experience on their first CV.
Many undergraduate courses now include work experience as a compulsory, assessed element, which means more and more student journos looking for fewer places in newsrooms every summer.
But with the huge changes in modern newsrooms, and often far fewer staff available to supervise a terrified newbie, (not to mention the paranoia about HR policy and procedures), are workies still getting the chance for hands-on experience they need to show their commitment and ability to do the job?
Despite a tacit agreement by employers not to exploit volunteers (goodness, there’s even laws against it) and to sometimes pay travel expenses, placements might still cost hundreds for the workie in train fares and accommodation.
Our Northampton-based students may only be an hour by train from London, but to take up a placement in the city they need at least £132 for five day-returns (and that’s only if they use London Midland’s pre-booked weekly season ticket, if they don’t it’s 300 quid).
If they need to head north, to say Media City in Salford, then they need pricey accommodation or a Mancunian relative with a sofa-bed. Even locally, they often need a car due to the lack of reliable public transport.
Many regional papers and broadcasters simply won’t take work experiences anymore because they don’t have the manpower. Some are forced to refer locally-based students to nationally-administered placement schemes that might send them anywhere. These organisations seem to have little interest in their workies having local knowledge and contacts, which seems bonkers.
Anyone who grew up on their paper or station’s patch will usually nuke the opposition when it comes to genuine exclusives. They went to school with that woman who’s up in court, or played football with someone who gives them a great tip-off. Their aunties will always know what’s happening around the community.
Even if the student journo gets a place at a media organisation, is there much for them to do? There are few opportunities to shadow different departments if they are no longer all based in the same office.
A day on newsdesk, a day with the snappers, a day on sport, in court and with subs isn’t possible if they are all now working in ‘hubs’, often in different counties, let alone different towns.
If they come in with their own stories or leads, as we encourage them to, is anyone going to have time to go through it with them? Will they be trusted to go to a job on their own, like we make them do during university newsdays?
But those who do get placements, and working journos who can spare the time to guide them, can get priceless experience. Some of our students have gained full-time jobs as a direct result of their work experience while at university. Newsrooms and PR agencies have sent glowing feedback about how useful it is to have a young, enthusiastic workie in the office, and many reveal that they in turn end up being taught new ideas on multimedia and mobile by the students. Everyone benefits; the workie gets a real-life view, the newsroom gets a new perspective, and an extra person on the tea rota. And that means it must still work, right?
I’m very keen to hear your views. Please feel free to comment and most importantly, please take five minutes to fill in the survey below, aimed at people who have undertaken media work experience, even if their careers took them elsewhere. You can fill in the survey by clicking here. Please feel free to share too.
WHILE the main rumours circulating about the BBC’s future have been about the salaries of celebrity presenters and whether Strictly clashes with the X-Factor, there are more important issues buried in the paperwork — including whether the regional press is holding councils and quangos to account.
As a journalist and academic, I’ve been a member of the working group into the relationship between the BBC and the regional press since it was set up in June 2014. The group’s discussions fed into the white paper published today.
It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you raised the issue, over a pint in the pub, of whether the regional media has declined/failed/is dead, you’d get a tidal wave of negativity from people who claim never to read a paper anymore.
They wouldn’t understand that most of the information about their local team/school/hospital they get is still investigated and reported by the local media — but published online.
If they were not so overwhelmed by the demands of constant deadlines to feed their organisation’s websites, the journalists might be in the pub to point this out themselves, but those days are long gone. You’re far more likely to see a local reporter, be they from a paper, local radio or TV, in a Starbucks or McDonald’s car park, balancing a laptop and a phone on their knee while simultaneously trying to upload images and write the story straight on to pages via erratic free Wi-Fi.
“I don’t buy a papers, I get my news from Twitter and Facebook,” is a line guaranteed to bait the most unflappable of journalists. No. You don’t get news from social media, not the full story anyway. What you get is a headline, a tease, and you then click through to — guess what? — the newspapers and broadcasters you think you don’t read. Social media is simply a noisy vendor; a billboard, a town crier directing you to find out what’s going on. It’s rarely the actual story, except, of course, when it is eyewitnesses Tweeting live from an unfolding disaster, or a Facebook fundraiser for a poorly child. Even those live events will see readers looking for validation; for authority and confirmation, by checking what the established news providers are saying.
There is no doubt, regardless of how much the owners and managers of regional papers and broadcasters will tell you otherwise, that the number of journalists in the regions has rapidly decreased. Newspapers have closed high street offices and moved production into ‘hubs,’ often on industrial estates with no physical contact with the public, producing dozens of papers that may be many miles away. Reporters, if they’re lucky, may still be out on their ‘patch’, but instead of returning to an office to file their story, they do it from the aforementioned car park — wi-fi and phone signal permitting. Office-based staff are having to produce more copy faster than ever before, because they are now also writing all the ‘non-news’ text — the property edit, the what’s ons, the sports results — that used to be someone else’s job.
This is not confined to the newspapers, as both the commercial and BBC local TV reporters also have to cover larger and larger areas and often don’t have the time to attend, interview and edit for same-day broadcast deadlines. And yet the regions have a much larger audience than all the nationals put together.
The decline in print is not simply down to fewer people buying papers because they can get the same content via their smartphones. Newspapers never made their money through the cover price, they make it through advertising, and in the pre-internet years, that advertising was almost exclusively purchased in print. If you wanted to get a job, buy a house or sell a car, you bought a local paper. If you wanted to get eyes on these areas as a business, advertising in the local paper was the only, and often expensive, way to attract customers.
News and feature pages were essential to attract in those readers who might also want to buy a car, or a house, or whatever: the news media is a healthy business if you can make people pay for it, and if the cost of printing had not gone through the roof.
However much reporters want to be the messenger of truth between The Establishment and The People, bringing news is a business, and in print, those numbers just didn’t make the profits the ever-larger publishers wanted, and the online revenue has been slow in coming.
Even back in the most recent heyday, management were tasked with making savings, by reducing the number of editions, or making one reporter cover the job of two, by making expenses claims such a long-winded process that reporters simply stopped doing anything that required claiming. But it was unquestionably better staffed than today.
A big regional daily like the Yorkshire Post, Birmingham Mail or Manchester Evening News will still have a good number of ‘portfolioed’ reporters — like an education correspondent, court reporter and most likely a politics editor, covering council and the various authorities and quangos. The big papers will be making sure that issues like planning, schools, pub licensing, health, transport, leisure facilities and local councillors’ expenses are brought to the public’s attention. But on a weekly paper in a small town like Northampton? Maybe not.
Here you’re unlikely to find a reporter able to give their attention and expertise to one area like the council. They’re likely to be half the entire reporting staff on a given day, assuming no-one ever takes annual leave.
Council agendas (have a go at reading one, they’re online) take time to read and analyse. Meetings are usually in the evenings, and if you’ve been the only reporter on the day shift, it’s unlikely you’ll be awake enough to do the late shift too, and that’s assuming you have no life and responsibilities outside of the office.
And those ex-journalists who took redundancy in the last round of cuts, are now in council press offices, writing handy news-style, pro-council press releases, which are just so easy to slip into that gaping hole in your paper or website. They’ve done the hard work for you, haven’t they? The public can even watch the meeting on a council-run webcam.
So what has all this got to do with the BBC White Paper?
The BBC’s current Royal Charter — the agreement which sets the broadcaster’s rules and purpose — expires at the end of December and a public consultation into its future was launched last year.
Tory Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who oversees charter renewal, has published detailed government proposals for the BBC’s TV licence-fee-funded future in this White Paper.
Included was a section on “Supporting and invigorating local news provision across the UK”, which included a commitment to provide 150 extra
BBC-funded journalists nationwide, who will be based in newspaper offices but share content to all local providers, as “a Local Public Sector Reporting Service — investing in a service to report on local institutions.”
The White Paper continues: “… a service that sees the BBC providing some funding for local journalists to provide reporting for use by the BBC and other news providers. These proposals could provide a positive contribution to the diversity and quality of local news provision. The government welcomes the BBC’s commitment to continue to work with the industry to develop and implement these plans and its commitment to provide funding for 150 journalists from 2017, given the public interest in a plurality of local and regional news provision. This number could rise to 200…”
Hang on, why has the BBC got to prop up the staff of local (commercial) papers at a cost of £8million of BBC license-fee coffers?
Is it just to make friends? To stop criticism by the press that the liberally state-funded BBC killed local journalism with its early regional websites? (Press Gazette, 2007)
Going back to the original set-up of the working group by new BBC news chief James Harding in 2014, and further back still, there has always been ‘tension’ between the state-funded BBC journalists and everyone else.
Newspapers still think the BBC ‘steals’ their stories and simply reads them out on air, however vociferously BBC newsrooms will argue that they don’t, and that news is rarely exclusive.
A generation of current print editors will remember how they started their career on a paper on £7,000, while their fellow trainee reporters slithered into the BBC on £18,000 for doing the same job. They claimed it was impossible for commercial news providers to compete with well-staffed, state-funded newsrooms whose reporters were only writing-up one story a day, while their own staff covered half-a-dozen or more, only to see them ‘stolen’ by the BBC. They’ll say that the newspapers, both regional and national, do all the legwork on an investigation and the broadcasters will just mop up the headline and conclusion. This was still being claimed at the Revival of Local Journalism conference two years ago that sparked Harding’s working party.
I’ve been to every one of the meetings over the two years and made several observations: the most notable being that for all their efforts, the tensions between the BBC and the regional newspapers, and the Press Association, and hyperlocal independent publishers, the commercial regional TV stations, all represented on the panel, are still there.
Some are further evolved than others, and have joined schemes that see newspaper website stories cross-promoted on BBC regional sites (the data on whether this helps the newspapers is still to come). There have, as detailed in the White Paper, been ideas about sharing the vast BBC archive, creating a shared data unit and distributing video to regional publications to use online. This could easily happen if the technology allows.
Meanwhile, some editors will struggle to even contemplate liaising with their local BBC, who they view as their competition, along with whatever other rivals they may have in print.
The idea of the BBC funding ‘extra’ reporters was originally thrown into the mix at an early working party meeting, as a way of covering not council, but court. Many around the table thought court reporting was being neglected in all but the cities, but subsequent enquiries saw this idea discarded.
Then it appeared again last September in an announcement by BBC DG Tony Hall, this time as a potential way for the BBC to be seen to be spreading some of their funds to report on courts and council matters. The announcement came as a surprise to the working party who had previously been told it wasn’t a cost-effective idea, because all areas of the UK, even those where council was already adequately covered by larger papers, would have to be included. That’s before you even consider the logistics of where to put a BBC-paid reporter who wasn’t to be based in a BBC office and who would have to share content between rival newsgroups, much like a rota reporter on a royal visit.
The idea was again rubbished, especially by Ashley Highfield, head of newspaper publisher Johnston Press, and Vice Chair of the News Media Association (formerly the Newspaper Society). He accused the BBC of ‘recruitment of more BBC journalists through the back door.”
But away from the working party, meetings were arranged between Harding of the BBC, and regional newspaper bosses including Highfield, with presumably his JP hat on top of his NMA one, to thrash out an idea of the BBC funding journalists who would work within the newspaper groups, which is pretty much what was revealed today.
Two major questions:
If the BBC funds new reporters to cover council and quango matters for the newspapers, what’s to stop the newspaper groups getting rid of their existing reporting staff? I asked this at the last working party meeting and remain unconvinced that it will be prevented from happening by ‘editorial gatekeepers.’
If there are 150, or even 200 new reporters funded by the BBC in the regions, which everyone would welcome, newspapers would be able to ‘bid’ to have one. Why would happen if, say, the Chronicle & Echo ‘got’ a BBC-funded council reporter, and they were expected to share their brilliant council story (at exactly the same moment) with BBC Northampton and the Herald & Post? Anyone who knows journalists will know the idea of sharing is never as attractive as beating the opposition to a fat exclusive. And newspapers have high targets for reader ‘hits’ just as they do for maintaining high print circulation. A good exclusive will not be given up easily.
Will the 150 reporters ever materialize? If the time it’s taken to get this far is anything to go by, I wouldn’t hold my breath. But I might cross my fingers, and meanwhile try and support my local papers by advertising, clicking through to pages online and picking up the print papers whenever possible. You might not think you need them but you’ll certainly miss them if they go, when the BBC could be the last man standing.
THIS week I was asked to talk about whether it was right that a mum, whose 16-month-old toddler was throwing a full-on tantrum, was asked to leave a John Lewis store after a complaint from a customer. No, of course it bloody wasn’t.
Apparently, a customer complained about the crying noise to a member of the menswear department who then asked the frazzled new mum to leave.
I’m pretty sure this was a one-off by a member of staff who was either inexperienced, having a bad day, or simply moronic. What he should have done is walk the stupid moaner off the premises, not the mum.
Oh yes, I know it’s pretty irritating when a kid cries in a public place. It’s MEANT to be annoying, to get grown-up human beings to pay attention to a child who might be in peril. But this wasn’t in a restaurant, or a bar, or a library. No one goes shopping for the peace and quiet.
So hey, Mr John Lewis customer, why don’t you walk away for a few minutes and come back when the tantrum’s over rather than throwing your toys out of your pram and COMPLAINING? Clearly when you wanted your own way as a kid, your parents must have pandered to your every whim, instead of leaving you to bleat and cry until you realised it was pointless, and did what you were ruddy-well told.
Yes, I’ll happily admit to bribing and threatening my offspring to get them to stop them kicking off in public, but a 16-month-old? Too young to understand I’m afraid.
The only thing you can do as a parent with a screamer is ride it out, or carry them bodily somewhere else to distract them. I did have a particularly effective hard stare that would silence my older sons (not Bonnie, she just didn’t care), but not at this age. You can lose a finger trying to strap a wriggly, screaming pre-schooler into a buggy, or get kicked in the face by flailing feet. Parenting the under-fives is like an extreme sport. Done daily.
Trust me, most parents are also swearing under their breath when toddlers throw a paddy in public. It’s not a situation anyone enjoys.
So get over it, shoppers-without-babies. Walk away, put your headphones in, have some empathy. Because it’s these screaming kids, mine included, who will be working all hours to prop up the economy in a few years time, so you can have a pension in your old age. Move on tantrum police, there’s nothing to see here. . .
MY 12-YEAR-OLD son is looking simultaneously horrified and delighted. His eyes are saying, “Get her off me!” while his mouth is showing a wide smile. His cheeks are being held adoringly by someone who could pass as his granny, but who is actually a complete stranger.
This mild-mannered mugging in the supermarket is not unusual for my children. They were once the subject of a weekly newspaper column, which detailed their early years and my often chaotic parenting. And unbeknown to them, they still have fans. Readers who saw them appear in print as chubby babies, naughty toddlers, and mischievous teens who still recognise them, although the column stopped when the paper ceased being a daily a few years ago.
“Look how you’ve grown!” beams the friendly stranger, leaving Billy unsure whether to thank her or correct her; because in his head he’s not grown enough, being one of the oldest but tiniest in his year at school.
Meanwhile the lady has moved on to ruffle the hair of eight-year-old Bonnie, now looking like a fully-formed human being rather than the wobbly toddler the reader remembered. “And don’t you look like your mum?” she asks. Bonnie has become used to this observation and doesn’t yet see it as the worst thing on earth (although no doubt that will change). I chat to the lady a little longer, filling her in on what our older two are doing and thanking her for keeping track of My Bloke’s career as editor of another paper.
As we bid our farewells to carry on shopping, Bill and Bonn start to question me along the lines of: Who the hell was that and why does she know so much about us? (They had been much younger when the columns ran and possibly thought that all children had their photos taken on a weekly basis.)
We carry on the discussion back at home with the elder sons, Jed and Dougie, now 18 and 16 respectively, who make sure the younger two understand that THEY were FAR more famous in their day, as they had their tantrums, birthdays, school applications, parents’ evenings and every other form of embarrassing scenario detailed to the public at large on a weekly basis for more than a decade. Cheek-tweaking by strangers was a weekly occurrence for us, not just a one-off, they claimed.
But how would they feel now if I’d kept writing about them? My change of job from full-time journalist to university journalism lecturer meant that I didn’t really get to discuss parenting mid-range teens. It would have been just as they hit the door-slamming years, and I would have had perfect source material for a parenting column, with topics like girlfriends, puberty, under-aged drinking, learning to drive, going abroad on their own or, critically at the moment, exams. But is it fair to expose the lives of your children as a paid job?
Social media would possibly have exacerbated their embarrassment even more, because ten years ago they wouldn’t have been so ‘shared’ via Twitter and Facebook, although they were online.(They don’t have their own social media open to us, quite wisely.)
Feedback was generally pretty good on the column, readers wrote letters and emails sympathising or sharing their own stories, and often it would be grandparents as much as parents who read it, because they could see how attitudes and styles of bringing up kids had changed so dramatically.
Unlike the plethora of parenting advice books, the column wasn’t there to lecture anyone about the best way to bring up kids, but to share experience and tips. Well, that was the intention anyway. I did get relatively regular letters written by someone claiming to represent the entire population of a nursing home who apparently detested me and spelled this out in no uncertain terms. Then there was the mother who wrote to tell me that she was so appalled that I didn’t give out party bags at one particular birthday that she was GLAD her children did not know mine. Ouch.
I’ve always found it curious how hate-mail tended to be from women, who you’d think would be more supportive of the sisterhood. But no, I’m afraid the most zealous critics were female. At least I can say they were engaged enough to be bothered to actually write, buy a stamp and take it to the postbox. Today we’d call them trolls.
Is writing about your own children in advice columns over-sharing? (And yes, of course I’m aware that I’m sharing their lives again, as I’m writing this right now). Is there a difference between parenting advice columns and the ubiquitous Facebook posts of the landmark events (or otherwise) of proud parents?
OK, so I did sit up in bed and write a column for the newspaper about the arrival of our new baby daughter on the day she was born. But because readers had spent nine months following the saga of my fourth pregnancy it seemed only fair to give them the conclusion. And to be frank, I was so pleased that having a home birth had been such a monumentally better experience than going into hospital, I wanted other people to understand there was nothing to be scared of. Plus, I was slightly off my head on post-partum painkillers.
If there was a story in the news about a particular parenting issue, like childcare, or health issues, I’d usually have experienced it one time or another, and knew how lonely, confusing and demoralising those early years as a mum can be. Jed and Doug are only 19-months apart in age, and like chalk and cheese, so I’d had a pretty intensive apprenticeship as a working parent, at a time when you were only allowed 3-6 months maternity leave. By the time Billy and then Bonnie came along, I had four children under ten and had given up caring what people thought of me.
I just wanted to tell people all the things I wish I’d done differently. Or even, and we probably don’t do enough of this, detailing parenting tips that had actually worked.
Today the urge to write about the offspring is somewhat offset by being able to share pictures and updates to family and friends via Facebook (which I try and use just for personal stuff). I will occasionally get asked to write the odd thing for a parenting site or magazine and happily rant away on BBC Radio Northampton whenever they are short of a guest with forthright opinions on bringing up baby.
Jed is now 18, just coming up to his A Levels, learning to drive, playing rugby, going out on the town and looking at universities. yes, terrifying, I know.
Dougie is almost 17, in the year below, doing AS Levels, playing first-team rugby (his team are in the Nat West Schools final at Twickenham in nine days time, and he’s fighting to get back from his first ever injury).
Billy , now 12, has started ‘big school’, also plays rugby, and does street dance, loves to cycle like his looky-likey dad, has successfully ingratiated himself with the sixth form at school, despite being a year seven.
Bonnie, now 8, doesn’t seem the slightest bit bothered that she’s the only one left at primary school, where she does gymnastics, yoga, recorder, ocarina, swimming and unlike her brothers, has never had a bad report. She’s girlier than you might expect (so much for nature/nurture) and somehow rules the roost. They are often hilarious and sometimes idiotic and make us incredibly proud.
Meanwhile, if you see my kids out and about, don’t be afraid to give them a tweak of the cheeks. They love it, really.