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Just stuff, Life in general, Media, Serious stuff, topical, what I think

It's all about dogs…

Dogs have been hitting the headlines this week… or should that be pawing? Either way, it’s only Tuesday and already this week I’ve listened to debates about dangerous dogs following the mauling of another wee child; semi-scientific reasoning behind why our four-legged friends might being psychic; bid farewell to my latest MA assignment which is very much doggy related; and digested the sad, sad news that my sister-in-law’s dog Dylan went to doggy heaven today.

The latter made me sad to the core; the death of a dog, no matter how expected, knocks you off your feet and it takes time to get over the loss of one of your family. So big love to Dylan up in doggy heaven.

Over to the dog-themed headlines: the first utterly ridiculous, the other no laughing matter.

So let’s deal with the silly first: psychic dogs. BBC Breakfast yesterday gave the seriously lightweight example of a dog escaping from his sitter and finding his way home on the exact day his owner flew back from a holiday. This doesn’t spell psychic to me, more coincidence. And if the dog had been psychic surely he would have ‘seen’ sense to stay put and wait for his owner to collect him and save a massive and dangerous trek home? Others agree with me.

I have no doubt that dogs have a sixth sense: how do they know when another dog passes by the house, even when the curtains are closed and they can’t see out the window? And that’s pretty clever. But they’re not psychic, surely?

Robyn and Ralphie walking by canalRalphie knows when he’s about to get a walkies, not because he reads my mind but because he’s cottoned on to our family routine. And he recognises the out of routine walks because I might put my shoes on or go to the cupboard where his dog lead is kept. Dogs are clever and they pick up on cues, this doesn’t mean they’re psychic.

The second dog-themed headline of the week is much more serious: another dog owner charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act and another child left with permanent scarring, no doubt physical and emotional.

One of the guests on BBC Breakfast, the mother of a child lost to a dog attack, suggested that all dogs be muzzled, in public and at home, when around children under 12. The second guest, from The Dogs Trust, flagged up all the good that dogs do; helping people, guiding the blind, saving lives and offering companionship to the elderly or lonely.

What they both agreed on is awareness and responsible dog ownership and training. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if we hadn’t taken Ralphie to training classes he’d be running rings around us right about now. Instead, he knows he’s at the bottom of the pack and that he has to behave.

Ralphie’s a cocker spaniel and his forever swinging tail is the most dangerous thing about him but he has snapped at other dogs, never a human.

We’ve met dog owners on walks who don’t have friendly dogs and recognise the fact their pet doesn’t like other people or dogs and might snap or bark. But they pre-warn us before we pass by,  so we can keep Ralphie out of harm’s way if he’s off the lead. Or they’re muzzled. And that’s fine; I don’t expect temperamental dogs not to be out and about, they need walking like any other, but it’s more about the owner and how they react. And having the control over their pets to deal with a situation should something go awry.

What did shock me was one cyclist’s extreme views in dealing with dogs as I caught part of Radio 2’s lunch time slot with Jeremy Vine yesterday. He had clearly been pestered by bicycle-chasing dogs for many years and taken extreme offence to it. He listed pointing at dogs and shouting them, hitting them with sticks, kicking them in the genitals and punching them in the head as recommended tactics to avoid being attacked.

What a dog trainer then pointed out was this man was doing everything possible to provoke an attack, his list clearly illustrating deep misunderstanding of our canine friends. And they are our friends, for the most part.

Journalism, Life in general, Serious stuff, topical, what I think, work

Graduates not getting the job they want straight away? Ah, diddums…

Pens in hair by Evil Erin via FlickrWhile the UK trend towards rising unemployment for young people has been building since 2000, I have to confess to being a tad unsympathetic.

“Lots of young people are downgrading their aspirations and taking second best. We’re seeing graduates who take on possibly not the job they hope to achieve,” says Paul Brown, director at the Princes Trust, in this article.

And when I left college I wanted to be editor of the New York Times, live in Manhattan and sip cocktails after an exciting day on the news desk. It was never going to happen.

So young people shouldn’t be defeated when they don’t get the job they aspire to straight away or if they have to settle for second best; we all have to start somewhere and that’s usually at the bottom. That’s certainly how it was for me.

What’s missing in this day an age – a time where school sports days are seen as stressful and unnecessarily competitive – is the sense of reality, the bigger picture. That if you want to become a fashion designer, a corporate director, a banker, then you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. And you have to start early.

Walking out of university with an English Literature degree and saying “hey job market, I’m reading for that career in publishing now” isn’t going to work. What experience do you have? What qualifications do you have? And best of all, have you got a combination of experience and qualifications that absolutely support the path you’re choosing to take?

I’ve read CVs from people who say they’re desperate for a career in media, yet their qualifications and experience say they’re more interested in marketing and sales. The two need to tie up.

And experience is a must. 14-year-olds should be working in some capacity, whether it’s sweeping up hair in a local salon, serving customers in the mini market or waitressing in a café; it adds to your perception of the world of work and teaches you valuable skills, whatever profession you choose to go in at a later date. And it teaches you the value of money, that sometimes you have to work quite hard for not very much.

Yes, it’s potentially stressful to think about a career when you’re just 14 but if getting onto the job market is becoming increasingly competitive – and figures seem to suggest that’s the case – then it’s so important to make sure you stand out.

This isn’t a an attempt to blow my own trumpet but read my CV and you’ll see that all I ever wanted to be was a journalist. From work experience on the Kidderminster Shuttle when I was 14, to the subjects I studied at A Level and to the trainee reporter job I started out in when I was 19, and everything I did in between to support that ambition. No one reading my CV could misinterpret that I wanted to be anything else – so not only is it about qualifications and experience but there needs to be an element of passion there too.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a journalist from very early on – after dismissing the idea of being an FBI agent and then an Olympic runner, of course – and did everything possible to make that happen. And I didn’t see it as stressful at the time, or pressured, or even unrealistic – not even when the careers advisor almost fell off her chair laughing at the fact I thought I could become a journalist, rather than the dog groomer role a useless careers-type survey had predicted for me.

So, I made sure I did my work experience (arranged via school) at two local newspapers and, despite being painfully shy at 14 I asked the reporters there what to study at college, whether to go to university or not, and the best options for getting a job. And that’s what I did.

I also whittled off letters to lots of local newspaper editors and asked them the best way to get into journalism. And I got lots of feedback, from the people who knew, the people who’d already been in my position and were now doing the job. You can’t get any better advice than that! And I’ve been working as a journalist since I was 19 – so it worked.

It’s tough out there, no doubt about it, and I’m not suggesting every case is as cut and dried as I’m making it sound, but there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance and that means making connections, creating opportunities and gaining experience as early as possible. And social media is a great enabler.

PS I know this doesn’t apply to all graduates and that there are some super talented folk out there who can’t get a job and it utterly sucks. And I’m only referring to journalism here because that’s the career path I chose. It’s tough deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life doing and I am lucky, I knew from an early age and followed a path. For those who don’t know what they want to do, it’s even tougher.  So maybe the title of this blog is harsh; my lack of sympathy is only towards those who expect the world for very little effort. If only.

Picture by Evil Erin via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

PS Be grateful for opportunities presented to you, make the most of them and be prepared to start at the bottom. And NEVER get your mum to write your work experience letters for you!

Journalism, Life in general, Serious stuff, topical, what I think, work

Graduates not getting the job they want straight away? Ah, diddums…

Pens in hair by Evil Erin via FlickrWhile the UK trend towards rising unemployment for young people has been building since 2000, I have to confess to being a tad unsympathetic.

“Lots of young people are downgrading their aspirations and taking second best. We’re seeing graduates who take on possibly not the job they hope to achieve,” says Paul Brown, director at the Princes Trust, in this article.

And when I left college I wanted to be editor of the New York Times, live in Manhattan and sip cocktails after an exciting day on the news desk. It was never going to happen.

So young people shouldn’t be defeated when they don’t get the job they aspire to straight away or if they have to settle for second best; we all have to start somewhere and that’s usually at the bottom. That’s certainly how it was for me.

What’s missing in this day an age – a time where school sports days are seen as stressful and unnecessarily competitive – is the sense of reality, the bigger picture. That if you want to become a fashion designer, a corporate director, a banker, then you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. And you have to start early.

Walking out of university with an English Literature degree and saying “hey job market, I’m reading for that career in publishing now” isn’t going to work. What experience do you have? What qualifications do you have? And best of all, have you got a combination of experience and qualifications that absolutely support the path you’re choosing to take?

I’ve read CVs from people who say they’re desperate for a career in media, yet their qualifications and experience say they’re more interested in marketing and sales. The two need to tie up.

And experience is a must. 14-year-olds should be working in some capacity, whether it’s sweeping up hair in a local salon, serving customers in the mini market or waitressing in a café; it adds to your perception of the world of work and teaches you valuable skills, whatever profession you choose to go in at a later date. And it teaches you the value of money, that sometimes you have to work quite hard for not very much.

Yes, it’s potentially stressful to think about a career when you’re just 14 but if getting onto the job market is becoming increasingly competitive – and figures seem to suggest that’s the case – then it’s so important to make sure you stand out.

This isn’t a an attempt to blow my own trumpet but read my CV and you’ll see that all I ever wanted to be was a journalist. From work experience on the Kidderminster Shuttle when I was 14, to the subjects I studied at A Level and to the trainee reporter job I started out in when I was 19, and everything I did in between to support that ambition. No one reading my CV could misinterpret that I wanted to be anything else – so not only is it about qualifications and experience but there needs to be an element of passion there too.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a journalist from very early on – after dismissing the idea of being an FBI agent and then an Olympic runner, of course – and did everything possible to make that happen. And I didn’t see it as stressful at the time, or pressured, or even unrealistic – not even when the careers advisor almost fell off her chair laughing at the fact I thought I could become a journalist, rather than the dog groomer role a useless careers-type survey had predicted for me.

So, I made sure I did my work experience (arranged via school) at two local newspapers and, despite being painfully shy at 14 I asked the reporters there what to study at college, whether to go to university or not, and the best options for getting a job. And that’s what I did.

I also whittled off letters to lots of local newspaper editors and asked them the best way to get into journalism. And I got lots of feedback, from the people who knew, the people who’d already been in my position and were now doing the job. You can’t get any better advice than that! And I’ve been working as a journalist since I was 19 – so it worked.

It’s tough out there, no doubt about it, and I’m not suggesting every case is as cut and dried as I’m making it sound, but there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance and that means making connections, creating opportunities and gaining experience as early as possible. And social media is a great enabler.

PS I know this doesn’t apply to all graduates and that there are some super talented folk out there who can’t get a job and it utterly sucks. And I’m only referring to journalism here because that’s the career path I chose. It’s tough deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life doing and I am lucky, I knew from an early age and followed a path. For those who don’t know what they want to do, it’s even tougher.  So maybe the title of this blog is harsh; my lack of sympathy is only towards those who expect the world for very little effort. If only.

Picture by Evil Erin via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

PS Be grateful for opportunities presented to you, make the most of them and be prepared to start at the bottom. And NEVER get your mum to write your work experience letters for you!

Just stuff, Life in general, Media, Serious stuff, Technology, topical, what I think

Give an hour to help someone online

Give an Hour logoIt’s my mum’s birthday next week. She goes away for the weekend and I spent a good five minutes this morning scratting around, trying to locate her address so her birthday card will reach her before she goes.

But I couldn’t find it. Not on my phone, not in the back of my diary, not in any emails. I know the street name, I’m not that stupid, and of course the town. But the postcode and house number? Clueless.

And I didn’t want to resort to calling and asking her or dropping her an email, I really should have it filed away somewhere reachable so I don’t have to ask for it every time I want to post something.

So what did I do? I turned to the delights of the world wide web, of course. First stop, Google Street View where I took a virtual stroll down mum’s street and located her bright blue front door. I then zoomed in to see she lives at number 43. Excellent.

Then I hopped over to Royal Mail’s postcode finder, tapped in the house number and street name and disovered her postcode. Fabulous.

Five minutes and the job was done. Card in envelope, stamp licked, address written, posted. But without the internet mum’s card would have been sent tomorrow and most likely arrived too late. The internet saved me!

So that’s why, after the clocks fall back an hour this weekend, I’ll be using those extra 60 minutes to show someone the benefits of being online. It’s part of the Race Online campaign to Give an Hour in a bid to get the whole of the UK online by the end of 2012. And there are nine milli0n people in the UK currently offline! How crazy is that?

I couldn’t do what I do without the web; I couldn’t do my job, I couldn’t blog and I’d be much less connected and knowledgeable without it. I could write 20 posts about why being online is so bloody fabulous, but I shalln’t bore you.

Instead, I implore you to give an hour too, when you can find the time, to show someone how to get connected, whether it’s saving money by comparing utility billss, shopping online or finding out what’s on TV.

And if that doesn’t inspire you, here’s a lovely story from my buddy Christian.

 

Journalism, Life in general, Media, Online journalism, Serious stuff, work

To what degree do you need a degree? My next challenge…

It’s not like I don’t have anything else to fill my spare time but last year was pretty monumental… got engaged, moved house, got a dog, celebrated someone special’s 30th birthday, got married, honeymooned and spent my first Christmas as a wife surrounded by a lot of snow after only just making it home from New York in time thanks to an icy runway at Heathrow.

So this year, apart from another house move, has been pretty tame in comparison and I do like a challenge. And this one’s pretty huge too – in a couple of weeks I start an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University (distance learning).

What’s so big about that I hear you cry? Well, I work full time in a busy job as it is, have a pretty active social life, sporting commitments and a family who occasionally like to see me (go figure) so there’s the time angle. This MA will take up around 18 hours of my week and when you factor in everything else in my diary, that’s not going to leave a lot of time for lazing around reading crime novels, watching my Murder She Wrote boxsets or scoffing curries after work with my colleagues.

But there’s anther angle too… I don’t have a degree and a Masters is what you’re supposed to do after the degree. Luckily for me my experience ‘in the field’ has made up for my lack of degree and not only did they let me in, they also gave me an advanced scholarship. So I don’t want to let them, or me, down.

Journo Nest logoI say lack of a degree like it’s a bad thing but I have to say that not having one has never ever held me back. I’ve always applied for jobs which are for graduates and got interviews; and, of course, got my current job that way. Yes, my current employer – a university – questioned my lack of degree but I answered with: “I have three years experience working full time in the industry instead of a degree. That makes me three years ahead of anyone else my age with a degree, it would be impossible for them to have as much work experience as I do.” And that did the trick.

And in newspapers, the industry I worked in before my current job, it was never about qualifications, it was about experience, ability and enthusiasm. That’s not to say qualifications aren’t necessary, they often are and I’ve endeavored to do any qualification offered to me while also working – some NVQ Levels 4s, a CIPR Diploma in Public Relations etc – so on top of experience, so far, that’s stood me pretty well. If you can gain experience AND work towards a qualification, grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s one of the reasons The Open University works so well, it offers people of any age and background the chance to do both. But don’t underestimate the power of experience, it’s what says you can actually do the job.

When I did my journalism training at just 18, my mentor confessed to preferring to take on 18-year-olds than 21-year-olds grads – we were youger, keener, easier to shape and the full-time college experience was much more a replica of a working day than the traditional university lifestyle which made graduates a bit lazy. His words, not mine.

So, not only am I worried about the time it will take me to complete the MA – which is over three years and done from home – I’m also worried about the academic side of it. Am I up to it? I screeched and moaned my way through the CIPR Diploma because it was tough (perhaps because I was a journo sitting in a room of PRs?) but if I had my time again I’d still do it.

And this is a small worry but my peers are likely to be a decade younger than me, probably a lot cooler and grew up with online tools where as I’ve had to actively learn them. But this is minor league, I’m down with the kids and looking forward to swapping knowledge and views and experience.

But all of those worries sit beneath a bubble of excitement that I get to study the subject I love under the guidance of a well respected and talented tutor (see Online Journalism Blog), and that will boost my career and my qualifications. I’ve reached the point where I’d like to be academically more able and have some theory behind what it is I’ve been working at for more than a decade.

So, it starts in a couple of weeks and I’m desperately trying to get ahead by preparing, doing some background reading and trying to conjure up some kind of study plan. And seeing my friends because I won’t have so much time to do that when the MA kicks in.

And until it does start, I am full of excitement, nerves and questions. I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and the plan is to blog as I go at Journo Nest, the sister blog of Robyn’s Nest.

friends, Just stuff, Life in general, Serious stuff, what I think

Drink too much, it gets ugly

Only a small scuffle for a taxi took the shine off an evening of cockails and convo with the girls last night. I’m exaggerating when I take it took the shine off, ‘cos the shine was firmly in place after a gathering of five girls, 15 cocktails, a sharing platter, some main courses and a sprinkling of cheesecake and chocolate brownie. But it has inspired this blog post.

We laughed when my friend, the birthday girl, announced at the dinner table: “I’ve been looking forward to staying out until it’s dark.” Now in our late 20s, early 30s we’re mostly in bed or asleep on the sofa when daylight leaves the sky.

But as a heavily intoxicated girl fell from the top of her four inch heels to the cold concrete of a Milton KeyneGirl dancing on a night outs pavement, yelling obscenities as we climbed into the pre-booked taxi she’s tried to hijack, I was reminded that night time is when the monsters come out.

As the taxi pulled off we glimpsed back at the high heeled girl struggling to stay on her feet but steady enough to plunge her middle finger clearly in our direction and yell a few unoriginal swear words. I felt embarrassed for her.

And it’s only because I’ve been there, done that and got the T shirt  (the whole outfit in fact) in a previous life that I’m able to say this: how unattractive and unsafe it is to get so leathered you’re happy to make a show of yourself in public.

Drink too much, it gets ugly, says the Australian Government and if I’d heard that 10 years ago I’d have raised a hand to my mouth and mocked a yawn. Now, it’s truth rings a huge bell of recognition.

According to this report it is estimated that the cost of alcohol related harm to the NHS in England is £2.7 billion in 2006/07 prices. That’s a lot of money.

The statistics linking alcohol with fatalities, serious injuries, broken homes, and major health problems, don’t make for good reading and it’s easy to catch a glimpse of that when you look around town on a Friday night. When I go out and about on an evening I want my wits about me and that doesn’t involve numbing them vodka.

But what will change? Probably nothing. Getting hammered, waking up with no memory of how you got home (if you even did get home) and spending a morning gripping the toilet bowl isn’t how I want to spend my weekends but I’ve given plenty of them over to just that in a previous life. Perhaps it’s part of growing up. My younger siblings are certainly continuing the tradition.

Am I saying I’ll never get drunk again? Hell no. When the first sip of that Kir Royale touched my lips the stresses and strains of the week wriggled from my shoulders and I eased myself into the weekend. And while three cocktails sounds miniscule my pansy arse self feels a tad jaded this morning. The difference is I don’t want to waste my weekend shaking off a hangover, I don’t want to have grazes on my knees from toppling drunkenly off my heels, I don’t want to have a black hole where my memory should be and I don’t want my friends to hold my hair back while I empty my stomach contents onto the street. I want to know when my mascara is sliding down my face, I want to hold myself upright when I walk, I want to treat people with respect when I talk to them and I want to avoid losing hours to alcohol induced blur.

I’ve reached the point in this blog post where I need to draw some kind of conclusion, but I’m not entirely sure I have one. I had a fab night last night with the girlies and think it’s only experience and hindsight that can turn you from binge drinker to sensible drinker and still have just as much fun.

Picture by Edward Allen L. Lim taken from Flickr under Creative Commons Licence

crime, Life in general, Serious stuff

On a serious note…

Domestic violence isn’t a topic I expected to be covered when I rocked up at the netball AGM this week. Umpire difficulties, fee increases, voting for a new chairman, yes. Domestic violence, no.

To hear that a member of the netballing community lost her life earlier this year to domestic violence churned my stomach and when I connected it to the local newspaper reports of past months, I just felt sad.

One in 10 people is suffering domestic violence in their life right now and one in four will experience it at some point in their life. Numbers don’t tend to mean much until it happens to someone you know, or, in my case, rubbed shoulders with on a netball court. Knowing the victim, even through sight alone, personalises it and the message hits home harder.

As a tribute to a netballer who lost her life so tragically and needlessly, a rep from MK Act came to talk to us about the help and support available to anyone suffering from violence or abuse at home. The Milton Keynes Netball Indoor League is a community of around 500 women, an ideal forum to pass on the message that there is help out there and no one need face it alone.

MK Act is a service for the victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse, offering support, advice, emergency refuge or rehousing.

For most of us our home is our haven, where we feel safest and happiest and no matter how crappy a day we’ve had, we can return home, switch off and be ourselves. Imagine if going home is the worst part of your day, the place where you’re most vulnerable and at risk.

The speaker from MK Act asked that everyone pass on information about their services in the hope it may help someone, someday, avoid losing their life like one of our netballers did. So this is me doing my bit. To contact MK ACT call 0844 375 4307 between 9am and 5pm or to speak to a member of the Thames Valley Domestic Abuse Unit call 0845 8 505 505.