Monthly Archives

April 2012

Forget the sunshine and sharks' teeth, in Florida I got to meet Mickey Mouse!

There is seriously nothing more exciting than being a child and getting to meet… Mickey Mouse! Throw in Daffy Duck and Pluto and holding a baby alligator with its mouth taped shut and you’re pretty much in child heaven.

I went to Florida when I was just seven and 25 years later – cripes, that makes me OLD! – I still remember it vividly. Our family holiday consisted of non-stop excitement and adventure and included eating alligator soup, watching HUGE crocs launch themselves up and out of the water to eat chicken carcusses swinging from a washing line, and collecting sharks’ teeth on the sandy white beaches.

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse (Photo credit: ross_hawkes)

I remember it like it was yesterday; my dad waking us up in the middle of the night to get us washed, dressed and packed off to the airport for a family holiday. A few days later and my brother and I were combing the beach for the little black teeth, thinking how cool it was that they washed up on the shore and that sharks couldn’t be very dangerous if all their teeth fell out and ended up in our bucket. An America chap popped over with a HUGE bag of sharks’ teeth and said my brother and I could each take a handful of his to help us with our own collections. Painfully shy but spurred on
by our parents we delved in. It was SO exciting!

We also found it hilarious that every time mum ordered chips we got crisps but, despite being just seven, I can remember the sense of fun, excitement and happiness of holidaying in Florida. It was the last big holiday we had as a family before my parents split up a couple of years later and it was three weeks of awesomeness. It was also my first introduction to the road looking wet because of the heat but when you got up close it’s perfectly dry; an optical illusion that kept my childlike brain wondering for hours.

People in Florida were helpful and friendly too and when my brother’s ‘cush cush’ went missing, the hotel staff rallied around to find it. It was an easy mistake to make, ‘cush cush’ was a full sized pillow that my younger brother insisted on travelling and sleeping with, his little comforter, and the hotel maid had scooped it up into the laundry by mistake. But after a ‘911’ call to hotel reception and a manic half hour, ‘cush cush’ was returned to the room safe and sound and my brother’s tears stopped. A happy ending and another Florida memory I’ve been unable to shake off.

Seriously, my time in Florida has stuck with me as the sort of childhood holiday I’d want my own kids to have; the whole experience was simply magical, not least because we spent time at Disney World and got to shake hands with THE Mickey Mouse. I also remember a ride called Figment of Your Imagination themed around a little purple dinosaur called Figment, a toy version of which accompanied me home on the plane thanks to a visit to the Disney World gift shop.

Gatorland Zoo sticks in my mind too (ref the gators chomping on chickens above) as well as a boat trip around the Everglades

, the fear and excitement of seeing crocodiles and alligators in the water filling my little belly with butterflies. At the zoo my brother and I got to hold a baby alligator, its mouth taped up so it didn’t snap at us and I got the exciting end – the mouth – to hold while my brother settled for the tail. We also have a great family photo – and this is when I realise I wish I had a digital copy to share or could easily pluck it from my mum’s photo albums at home – of my brother and I putting our heads into the wide open jaw of a gator. Of course, the gator was a replica version in the zoo but it looks pretty damn real to anyone who sees the photo.It’s on my ‘to do’ list to return to Florida for a holiday as soon as possible, as a sunshine-filled adventure with hubby and maybe friends or in a few years when we have kids and can give them the sort of amazing holiday I had when I was seven.

I don’t have such vivid memories of any other childhood holiday, Florida really stuck with me and I wish – as I type this from my desk on a raiy evening – that I was back there.

Five for Friday: people stories

I love people and hate people. Actually, scrap that, there’s no one I really hate, it’s just sometimes folk can be so frustrating. But it’s also people – nice ones – who keep me going.

I’ve probably always known this, but it’s been clearer these past few weeks as I’ve been developing some case studies at work, but I’m most definitely hooked by people stories. Journalism, for me, is always about people and even the headline news – the other week it was the budget, a big string of complex numbers and mathematical signs and men in suits shouting each other – are made more real by normal people. Usher in the pensioner who’ll struggle to stay afloat, or the single mother on Radio 2 before Easter who confessed to not being able to afford three meals a day, and suddenly those numbers and political arguments have meaning.

I probably discovered my love for people stories when I was a rookie report. I spoke to an elderly gentleman and author of The Trenchard Brat, one man’s tale about his life in aviation, told to me from the armchair of his living room in his Shropshire home. I remember that interview, of being hooked by his story, and the two hours I spent with him being way longer than I needed for a feature article in the Shrewsbury Chronicle. But he was a lovely old man with some lovely stories to tell, and he told them so well, from being given brandy as a baby to overcome illness, to wartime tales from the skies – when aircraft engines actually killed more pilots than enemies:

Frederick Wilson’s book still sits on my bookshelf,  the copy he gave me all those years ago, and signals the start of my love for people stories. Which brings me on to my Five for Friday, people stories:

1) The lovely – and inspiring – author Julia Crouch spoke about her drastic career changes and discovering a passion and talent for writing while studying creative writing with The Open University. She says it changed her life; she now writes full time and is utterly content with her career. Lovely lady, and she gave me some useful tips too. Here’s the interview.

2) The next story has a Downton Abbey connection – and who doesn’t love a bit of Downton Abbey!? I spoke to Kevin Doyle, the actor who plays Joseph Molesley in the hit period TV drama…

3) Caroline Boyle is a former Olympic cyclist with an arts degree. Can sports and arts coexist? She certainly thinks so…

4) Carrie Walton is a blogger and all round lovely person, who I have the pleasure of dealing with on a weekly basis for work, and is also helping me out on an MA project I’m currently working on (the fruits of this labour are coming soon). She says it’s the green-eyed monster that spurs her on to try new things but I have to admire her ‘go get ’em’ attitude. Anyone who writes a letter to their own fat gets my vote :0)

5) Another victim of my MA project is Violet Fenn, author of The Skull Illusion, an online repository of post mortem photography. Sounds grim, but it’s actually pretty beautiful, and huge thanks to Violet for letting me into her home, introducing me to her snoring dog and talking about blogging. Which reminds me, I need to find my niche! (My audio interview with Violet is coming soon!)

My day at the Guardian Open Weekend

Author’s note: I wrote most of this post the day after the event and failed to finish and publish it. So it’s a belated report of the Guardian Open Weekend but better late than never, eh?

I’ve just been wracking my brain on the premise that this blog post would start with the highlight of my day at the Guardian Open Weekend. And cupcakes popped into my head. A stall set up just outside the Guardian’s office on York Way sold cute little cupcakes emblazoned with the Guardian logo (in icing, no less) and they were yummers. But that wasn’t the highlight of the weekend, I’m just… Obesessed. With. Cake.

It was great for The Guardian to open its doors for the weekend and let us civilians in to poke around and be the ones asking the questions for a change. Not only could we glimpse the offices over the shoulders of burly bouncers who stopped us straying to where we shouldn’t, we also indulged in some great talks. There were loads of sessions I’d like to have attended and many weren’t targeted at media types. The jewellery making session – they got pliers to play with! –  appealled but I plumped for sessions on careers (very topical in my workplace right now), how to make a video (scores points and work and for the MA), how to publish your own book (a blatant ad for but interesting in case I (when) can’t get published the traditional way) and a talk about how the Guardian’s gone multimedia (interesting, relevant and showcased the Guardian’s great work).

This was a two-day event but my buddy Angie and I attended on Saturday only. So, while Ang sloped off to attend a session on gender and equality – and learned the word ‘pinkification’ – I attended “How to change your career’ led by Richard from

I love career change stories, I find them really uplifting and they remind me that life’s journey doesn’t have to be straight and narrow. One of the audio case studies played during the session was from a chap called Hugo, and it lingers in my mind still.  “Changing career has given me licence to be the same person in work as I am outside of work.” That’s what I want.

Session leader Richard shared his own career change – from international corporate to social entreprenuer – and his body language changed dramatically as he did. The anger and loathing of his old job showed through his tensed fingertips, tort face and you could see the inner rage come out in his words. Moving on to talk about how he made the change and his body relaxed, he lit up and spoke with passion.

It was interesting, to me at least, that there were at least three journalists in the room (all looking for a new career?) in what was a small ish session comprising no more than 30 people. One young woman was working as a trained lawyer didn’t want a career in law; and that the other session leader Sarah is still trying to find out what she wants to do and is embarking on a portfolio career, trying lots of different things until she finds something that fits.

So, to summarise, Careershifters recommends a five step formula:

  1. Get committed (decide to make a change and be proactive about making it happen)
  2. Get to know yourself (look at what switches you on, not what’s on your CV. Define your ideal career ingredients and take the trial and error approach  – attend classes or workshops to see what you like doing)
  3. Explore your options (use your networks to search for opportunities and set up brief meetings with people rather than firing off a CV. Decide if the strategic (planned) approach is for you; whether you want to ‘jump off the cliff’ and straight from one career to another or the parachute approach which is somewhere between the two.
  4. Make the change (put yourself amongst the right people, get the skills you need, manage your finances)
  5. Stay the course (fear of finances, fear of failure, fear of what friends and family think? Don’t let that put you off)

Session number two was about how to make a video, led by the accidental comedy duo of John Domokos and Laurence Topham. Clearly unrehearsed and unprepared these two characters – Laurence the chatty, hyperactive one and John the demure, straight-talking one – flipped from offering advice to showing clips to demo-ing the iPhone and taking questions.

All Guardian reporters – including those from a print-only background – will be trading their Blackberry for an iPhone soon in order to capture video on the fly. They gave some great examples of video interviews and mini films caught on the iPhone and how you can even edit from your smartphone.

In between trying/failing to establish who was lading the session, the pair offered some great tips on lighting, positioning, angles etc before aiming to split us into teams and briefing us to gallivant off and collect vox pops, wide angle shots and general views (GVs) so they could edit it together for a video report on the Guardian Open Weekend. And when they sent us off on our mission, it was only then they realised they needed to get the footage off us, somehow, in order to edit and use it. It was a last minute scramble to hand over an email address to send clips, and the session ended in semi confusion.

Ang and I didn’t take up the video challenge, which clashed with lunch on a noisy side street and our following two sessions – plus a browse around the event’s bookstore featuring the wares of Guardian authors – but this is what some of the others came up with..

We attended a session on how to publish your book which I was expecting to be about why you’d choose to self publish over battling for an agent and then a book deal in this day and age when the publishing industry is flagging. But nope, it was a blatant advert for, a company which helps you publish your own books, whether you’re aiming to be the next JK Rowling or wanting to create an album of photos for loved ones. A few people got up and left after 15 mins but we stuck it out to the end and it was actually interesting. There’s no need for me to fill you in though, you can head straight to for all the info.

Our day ended on very low comfy chairs listening to a handful of Guardian folk talking about how the company has gone multimedia. If you think the Guardian is just about a newspaper, you’d be very wrong, and they plough a lot of time and energy into creating awesome videos, including this incredibly moving and powerful animation; multimedia journalism at its best. They alsolaunched Streetstories, an audio-community-history project for the Kings Cross area.

It was a great day, I left knowing more about the Guardian and hopefully other folk did too. Plus the cupcakes were really rather tasty.

Five for Friday: Football and photographs

On Good Friday, hubby realised a dream and took his family to watch a Reading FC match in an executive box which he won in an auction. The run up to that auction was a very stressful time; my husband is a loyal Reading supporter and wasn’t planning on missing this opportunity.

So, we enjoyed a full stadium tour, a three-course meal and a tense game against Leeds United and their VERY vocal supporters. Aside from a top day out – and a very happy husband (at least once Reading were 2-0 up and they left it pretty late) – it was a chance for me to try out Instagram, a cool little app for snapping and sharing piccies, touching them up a bit and posting them to Facebook and Twitter etc. I love photography anyway but this app makes it more fun and I find myself longing for picture opportunities to crop up. Sometimes they don’t though, which is why I’ve ended up with a few pics of my bedside table and lamp. Hmm, not terribly exciting.

So here are a five Instagram piccies from the Madejski Stadium on Good Friday…

Reading FC ticketsReading FC pitchReading FC stadiumReading FC dugoutReading FC changing rooms