Thursday, 12 July 2012

"Whine, Whinge, Moan, Gripe" - yes, now you too can speak Plymothian like a native...

"You love us, you really love us..."

Ooooooooooooooh, some people. I mean, really, some people. It's gets so that you hurry the day when you have to pass a test and get a licence to allow you to put comments on the internet.

Fortunately, that day isn't here and anyone can put the boot in on anyone else, ideally under the cover of a false name with no chance of anyone finding out who you are... unless you have the bottle to say who you are... or are stupid enough to say who you are. Yes, I am the latter, welcome to my small world.

I found this on a story which I'd spent much of a Saturday out in the rain covering, then followed up with a corking tale about an escaped suspect from a police station. By the time I got home (around 8.30pm), the kids were abed and upset I hadn't read them their bedtime story as I always try to do, dinner was cold and the Mrs was doing a fair impersonation of a highly unamused partner. And who could blame her? I am not the kind of guy you find in 50 Shades of Grey... more like 17 Versions Of A Sickly Green Colour...

I mean Nevman has a point, I'm not saying he doesn't. But he seems to think we have an army of reporters and the kind of backing seen at The Mail, the Sunday Times or the Observer, with hosts of reporters, plus stringers, freelances, part-timers and oodles of subs and proof-readers. We don't. We're a local paper. We do, however, have articles which those three newspapers, along with all the other nationals, regularly partake of (read "steal") and then put their name to.

So it got me to thinking, what the blinking flip have I been doing since I got here. I mean, I'm no investigative journalist. I'm no Nick Davies, or Seymour Hersh, or John Sweeney (although I have worked alongside Sweeney on a piece of investigative journalism which I'm particularly proud of and really, really got up the noses of the MoD, but that was another time and another news organisation)

So, I had a bit of a dig in respects to what could be construed as my own "lack of depth and background to articles" and my own "absence of investigative journalism":

Well, we could start here – which we got first and then BBC et al followed up on…

Earlier this year there was - - this one took, off and on, a year of digging and being knocked back, even to the point of getting an MP to ask a minister who appeared to not give the full picture.

Then there’s some late night being out on the beat: –having already done a day’s work in the office, and yes, this'll get to be a moaning theme of mine, as it does with every crime reporter because our subjects do not like to keep respectable hours)

Then there’s the times I’ve been out into the very early hours – having already done a full day at work - & (and no, we don’t ever, ever got overtime payments… again another theme with reporters, sorry to go on... and on... and ... you get the picture)

There's kind of a theme with these three: - which again took ages of interviews with detectives who weren't usually okay with talking to a reporter. 

Then there’s this ongoing story which I'm particularly proud of for personal and professional reasons, yet no other news organisation was interested in for around a year, where Plymouth schools, council and police lead the entire country on something truly worthwhile -
as long as you ignore the commendation bit... I'm vain, but there's only so much adulation you can take.

Add to that the Kelly Edney story ( which took nearly two years of FoI haggling with Prison Service and Information Commissioner. Okay, it's a bit old, but cases like that don't come around often in sleepy Plymouth.

Now this is just a quick-as-I-could-get selection of stuff I’ve written in the past four years… there’s lot of stuff I know I’ve written but can’t find online about police investigations - the Chinese brothels/traffickers case, the Essex/Plymouth cocaine dealers,  the Vietnamese cannabis crime gangs which I was the first to highlight down in the South West, even the in depth interviews with rape victims, victims of domestic abuse.

Now, that’s just my stuff. Admittedly, I could be doing more, but there is the day to day gubbins to be getting on with, writing about incidents and crimes, doing picture captions for charity events, schools events, amateur theatrics, appeals for witnesses (many of which work and I have coppers galore admitting to me that they’ve had a result from The Herald and/or thisisplymouth appeals), plus fluffy bunny stuff like and (I know, shame about the heading, eh)

Now, add to this some of the phenomenal material dug out by people at The Herald like Edd Moore who covered the Plymouth Argyle shenanigans solidly for more than a year so brilliantly that other news organisations were reading him to find out what was going on. Some of political reporter Keith Rossiter’s work, and health reporter Diana Prince’s work has been incredible, insightful and revealing, covering both the nitty gritty of the NHS and council to the personal stories.
Not to mention the award-winning work of defence reporter Tristan Nichols who spent three months alongside “our boys” in Afghanistan, one of the first local reporters to be embedded for such a length of time with frontline operational servicemen.

I really think not enough credit is given to The Herald for having not one, but two full time court reporters Stuart Abel and Graham Broach - one for the magistrates and one for the crown. My last paper in Essex had one such reporter, just for crown and just for Basildon. The Southend office would occasionally go to mags and crown court, as would the Thurrock office, but not everyday and not both courts. So to have two is quite remarkable and really gives Plymouth a view of the justice being meted out in the public’s name. I wonder if the Plymouth people would rather that was hidden from their gaze?

One thing which bothered me was the dismissive tone about the “human interest” stories. My old news-ed (Dave - he'd been a reporter for longer than I’d been alive by the time I started at the Echo) used to say “people like to read about people”. Which meant that whatever the story, however big, however seemingly divorced from mere mortals, it would actually always have a human dimension worth revealing. A massive new housing development? Who will it benefit and who will it harm? Incinerator near a school? Talk to the pupil or teacher with asthma. A crime or court verdict? Talk to the copper and the victim, or the victim’s family. 

Dave also used to say "Eve, what's this sh**? Can't you spell properly? If you send me one more bit of copy with a 'teh' instead of 'the' I'll come over there and rip out your liver you feckin' muppet" on a regular basis, so take what he said about people-wanting-to-read-about-people with a pinch of salt if you wish...

As for not noting Plymouth’s weaknesses? What, like this paper has never ever mentioned the city's racist element, it’s above-average number of child-abusers, it’s small-minded stuck-20-years-behind-rest-of-UK mentality, it’s crap internet speeds and train-to-London timetable, it’s lack of a bleedin’ airport, diminishing dockyard and lack of use of its derelict spaces and properties left to rot….

I mean, the paper loves the city, but you have to be honest in any relationship, don't you?

Personally speaking, and keeping in mind I'm not local, as is often said to me with a finger jabbing into my chest by someone with three-too-many fingers on a regular basis, I’ll tell you one thing we really don’t focus on in this city as much as I’d like to since I arrived here six years ago – how much people in this city feckin’ moan… I mean they REALLY do moan a lot. Everything from the sky to the ground, the sea to the rivers, the view to the smell, the streets to the pavement. (Although, the potholes are a real pain in the suspension if you know what I mean, I'm with you there on that one folks)

What I will say in defence of the paper is it’s not perfect, despite the efforts of the staff at the place. It’s easy to carp from the sidelines, (especially anonymously, without risk of being identified), it’s easy to forget the good articles (such as the Support for Devonport campaign), it’s easy to remember the spelling mistake, or the missing word or comma.

It is not perfect, but I'm pretty sure that here, as with many other local newspapers up and down this green, pleasant and wet land that the reporters and others at those papers will continue to do their best to get the news of their town/city to the people of aforementioned town/city.

Meanwhile, for those of you who girded your loins to read this ongoing pile of horse manure I write, if you've been invited by the guvnor of The Herald, why not take a shot and give it a go? What have you got to lose, other than your pre and mis conceptions?

Love, as always... (mutter, mutter, grumble, grouch, mutter, grumble...)

Monday, 2 July 2012

I asked the barmaid for a double entendre - and she gave me one...

I like writing, even when not at work. I joined a writing course after moving down to Plymouth, thanks to my colleague William Telford. It was led by a wonderful, funny and earthy teacher called Roy York. Roy was a sprightly, "senior citizen" with a good line in rude one-liners, a love of film noir and a vast knowledge of literature, writers, the art of writing and comedy.
Roy encouraged my writing like no-one else since I was a schoolboy and lusted after Mrs Smith, my English teacher, for whom I would would write lavish stories in the vain hope that one day she'd see me as a kindred soul, dump Mr Smith and be my Mrs Robinson.
She didn't, but it never stopped me trying.
Roy would encourage amatuer writers like me, but also he'd amuse and entertain us with his own big book of funny anecdotes and observations during the classes we took out at Millfields. If I wrote something a bit too saucy or gritty for the older members of the group, he was as supportive as if I'd written something mature and worthy. I rarely did write anything mature and worthy. Well, what d'you expect? But we both like an element of filth and an element of gritty violence.
Sadly, Roy passed away recently after fighting a variety of illnesses that Fate likes to put in our way. His death leaves a very big hole in a lot of Plymouth writers' lives.
Here's something I wrote for one of our evening classes, to highlight the kind of meetings I've attended as a reporter, but also to give a big nod to the likes of the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue radio programmes and the Carry On film series. We read all our stories/poems/haikus out loud, so when you get a laugh from your classmates, it's joy to the ears. But getting a grin from Roy... that was always gold. Bless you Roy.

July Committee Meeting of the Innuendo and Double Entendre Association (Little Nobbing branch)

1) Apologies for Absence:
Vice Chairman Humphrey de-la Fleur offered his apologies. He said he wasn’t feeling himself tonight but hoped to be coming out later this evening before his wife got home. 

2) Declarations of Interest
Committee Secretary Sasha Boomdiere revealed she had an ongoing interest in the Little Nobbing Rovers football team, the Little Nobbing Cricket Team and the First Nobbing Scout Troop.
Social Secretary David Gimlet asked the committee to note he regularly wrote for the town’s weekly paper for a small sum.
Ms Boomdiere said she had often cast her eye over Mr Gimlet’s column and congratulated him on its length and content, adding it always brought a smile to her face.

3) Minutes of last meeting:

Branch secretary Gerta String read the minutes of the previous meeting which were agreed by the committee. She said she hoped this meeting will not go on for as long as the last meeting as she often found her fingers became quite stiff after taking down everyone’s particulars.

4) Treasurer’s Report:
Eileen Felt said there was very little cash left in the kitty as of last month after members had been regularly whipping it out.
She hoped members would remember to make substantial deposits into her safe-box in the coming weeks. Eileen said either a cheque or postal order would be preferable and members could give her one at the end of any meeting.
Eileen said she had sought out a financial advisor who had made a couple of suggestions about where she could get a lot of interest.
Eileen also wanted to reassure all members that she had a firm grip on the finances and had bent over backwards to ensure her kitty was easily available at all times.    

5) Social Secretary’s Report:
David Gimlet was pleased to note the association had enjoyed a few busy nights on the social diary of late with a host of organised events.
He said what with the bad weather he had worked up quite a sweat on many a filthy night, trying to come up with activities for members to get stuck into.
One such was a evening of golf. All members got a chance to play a round, and we were given tips on how to improve our swinging from a pro who been entered in the Open. One of our number apparently had a birdie on the 18th hole and celebrated by throwing their balls into a nearby bush.
Some of the more alcoholic evenings at our local – the Duck and Swallow – have resulted in a few members finding it hard to remain erect by the end of the night. One of our lady members was said to have had more than one Bishop’s Finger inside her, leading to her being in a rather excitable state come last orders.
David said he also appreciated the help from the Chairman’s wife, Sarah Loins, on the stalls for the summer fayre. He said she was invaluable with the extra-large snakes and ladders board she had created, with David later learning that Mrs Loins had been working on the game for quite some time.

6) Chairman’s Report:
Our chairman, Roger Loins, remarked on the impressive number our association had grown to in recent years. He was particularly pleased the Little Nobbing branch was now larger than our sister branch at the neighbouring village of Nibbling-under-Lyme.
He wish to offer commiserations to the outgoing chairman of the Nibbling-under-Lyme who was retiring early due to advancement in years and ill-health, adding he hoped there was no hard feelings. Former chairman Hamish McTaggart said he had harboured no hard feelings for a while now.
There was also a hope the two branches could meet up for a forthcoming social event at nearby farmland he had inherited from his good friend, the widow Macintosh, who sadly passed away last month. He said she had always promised him she would leave him with a couple of acres and, as usual, she didn’t disappoint.
Chairman Loins queried his failed attempts in recent weeks to contact our Treasurer regarding deposits and withdrawals. It appears he had little joy in asking the receptionist at her workplace when was the best time to get Eileen Felt.

7) Any Other Business:
Church warden Bernard Hind has asked the committee if it could vacate the church hall early next month as he needed to prepare the flags and insignia he bought for the next Scout and Guide parade. It appears he will be asking Brown Owl and Akela to spend most of the evening helping him polish his regalia.
Chairman Loins also urged members to be cautious when advertising their membership of the association to the local press, noting how one gentleman at a branch in Scunthorpe had been hung out to dry by the tabloids.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert

Right. I know. Yes, yes, you're right, I'm sorry. No really, I am.

I have been somewhat lapse.

There's some good reasons. One of the main ones was disillusionment. I retorted to some comments which were added to a story I wrote and in hindsight, I shouldn't have. I mean, part of me still feels I should have the right to respond to intimidation, but arguing with anonymous commenters... well. As better and more experienced bloggers have noted before, feeding the trolls is a kind of pointless and damaging exercise. Trolls like the oxygen of publicity and responding to them is grade A oxygen, fresh from the mountain-tops of the Himalayas. Added to which, I got my nuts slapped (metaphorically) by my "work" and bluntly told to shut the feck up. Which was good advice, albeit too late for my benefit.

Needless to say, it does put a little pinch on your desire to write freely, openly and without any fettering. So, I've held off.

Also, time... three sons keeps me rather busy, as does the full time job, as does the full time partner, as does the full time dog, cat and new cat. Yes, new cat. Thank you Woodside. Thank you for yet another cat to feed. Hopefully this one will be friendly and settle on my lap, giving me an excuse to say "honey... I can't get up to help you with the dishwasher... the new cat has just settled on my lap and it'd be cruel to get up now" [and no, I don't think that will ever work, for the record]

Also... this cold. No really - I've had this cold since November last year. I say cold, but it's a blocked nose and enough mucous coughing up and down my airways to supply the next Alien film with that material that drips from its mandibles. I'm actually getting worried about it and even thinking unmanly thoughts about going to the doctor's *again*. I know, second time in six months - what an absolute girls' blouse, eh?

The repeated nightmares about Zombie Apocalypse has not affected me however. I still believe it will come and only those with shotguns and high ground will survive. Alternatively, only those who can set up running machines all around the outside of their house will survive. The Walking Dead cannot run and thus when the treadmills are set to jog, they will be buggered. These are facts, ignore them at your peril.

Anyway, point being, I will return to proper blogging now as there's a lot of stuff I'm in the mood to chat about again. I'll even take requests. No really, I will, but obviously "naff off hippy journo filth" will not be acted up, regardless of how many times you shout it Mum...

I still enjoy writing, any kind of writing. The writing club I've joined is fun, the writing I do for The Herald is still my very enjoyable job, and writing on this blog is cathartic.

However, I don't think I'll be dual publishing the notlocal blog on the thisisplymouth site anymore.... Plymouth has a lot of great things about it, it really, really does... but it also has a lot of Trolls and people who are happy to let the Trolls have free reign. I think thisisplymouth will get along fine without me. Anyways, they can always come over to my gaff here and try their luck. I still work on the basis that no-one's listening/reading and I'm the last one left, on the shortwave radio to a barren wasteland. It's that Zombie Apocalypse again... I told you it was on my mind a lot, didn't I?

Anyways, Hi, hope you're all well and let's see how we go...

Carl - and I'm still not local.