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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.


A blog post for International Women’s Day…

I’ve been racking my brains on this one, trying to think of something original to say on International Women’s Day. But I’ve struggled… there’s no one person I would say is my inspiration – I have lots of mini inspirations instead!

When I first met my husband and we started the meeting and greeting of each others’ friends and family, he commented that I only seemed to be friends with really nice people. And it’s true! I am utterly blessed to have the best female friends, scattered across the globe, that a girl could ask for. Some of them old friends, others newly made, all of them wonderful in their own unique way.

Obviously, my mum’s right up there, for putting up with me for the past 31 years and helping to shape who I am today. In fact, having watched a fair few episodes of One Born Every Minute I think all mums are worth a mention for putting up with the pain of childbirth. Seriously, I’m getting mine delivered by stalk. Ouch! *crosses legs firmly*

In all seriousness, I am motivated and inspired by a collection of women (and men too, I hasten to add) who have battled their own demons, climbed their own mountains, been there when I needed them or supported me in my career or personal goals. Or by a random stranger who offers some unconditional kindness and warms my heart. Each woman has her own challenges and I’ve drawn strength from all those who’ve wondered into or remained a part of my life. People I know, me included, have been through some crappy things and come out the other side smiling. And for that they need some recognition.

I’m motivated by my collective of writer buddies for spurring me on, giving feedback and supporting me in my dreams; have high praise for people who’ve coped with family difficulties and still find time to help others; people who are genuinely happy to put themselves out to give you a helping hand; people who have made it trhough the unthinkable. Too many to name individually!

For me, IWD isn’t so much about individual people but about their stories, like Lisa Maclean’s about a 19-year-old cancer patient who died in her arms. So moving! I think all women have flashes of inspiration about them, just as we all have faults.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit now and this post is far more woolly than I intended… so in the absence of any naming (nut not shaming) as my wonderful female friends are too many to mention, I’m going to give just one lady a virtual toast, so here’s to Angela Lansbury. She’s 85 now, best known for playing Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, a TV series I absolutely adore, and she’s a theatre and movie pro too. Her career has spanned seven decades – can you remember her in the children’s classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks? – and my heart just melts when I think of her. She’s grown old gracefully, is bursting with talent and class and I think she rocks. I’m also in ore of her sleuthing character too, if I could spend my twilight years writing books and solving crimes in Cabot Cove and beyond, I’d be chuffed to bits. I heart jessica Fletcher.

Check out other IWD bloggers via Platform, the Open University’s community website, here.




How do you read yours?

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty because I’m currently reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (supposedly the next best thing to Steig Larsson). I feel guilty because I’m reading it on a kindle and not in paperback. And I feel even more guilty because I’m enjoying reading it this way.

I never thought I’d be able to abandon the good old paperback for an eBook. Reading on an electronic device just never appealed and can’t replace the real thing, the smell of a new book, the dog ears as you create as you work your way through it (yes, a bad habit but I like my books to look read) and placing it on the bookshelf when you’re done, creating another addition to your own personal library. I’m proud of my bookshelf, it’s a history of what I’ve read and says a lot about me.

With eBooks there is no smell, no dog ears and when you’re finished no one need know. But it’s not all bad.  Certainly not for Amazon who report selling more Kindles than paperbacks during the backend of 2010.

So, a couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Amazon Kindle app to my iPad and bought The Snowman. It cost me all of £2.92, a tiny saving of around 50p on the current listing price for the paperback version but it was available to read within a few minutes; no going to a bookshop, no waiting for an Amazon delivery. I could start reading straight away. I began reading in bed and find it much easier to hold an iPad comfortably than a book; in fact I can read it one handed (no traditional page turning required) so can snuggle further under the duvet when it’s nippy.

Whether I bookmark my page or not, the Kindle remembers the last page I was reading from so there’s no ‘I’ve dropped the book, shit, which page was I on’ business and I can change the font size for ease of reading. As old age encroaches (I’m all f 31 you know) I find really small type off-putting so making it bigger is a bonus. I can change the screen brightness so I don’t get bedazzled and I can make notes if I want to (good for research when I get back on the novel-writing trail) or link straight to an online dictionary if I want to look things up. I can also pop it in my bag, along with my emails, favourite social media tools, my blog and the wider web, all in one device. And I can see it will be really handy on holidays – no more packing three heavy hardbacks and lugging them around an airport, I can pop them on the Kindle and if I run out of books to read I just download another one without even needing to move from the poolside.

All that said, I do feel guilty. I love books, I love book shops and I love adding to my little library of literature and hope one day to have a home office lined with  shelves housing all the books I’ve read. So to say goodbye to books, the real thing at least, is a bit sad.

I’m far from saying I’m ditching paperbacks altogether but I’m going to give this Kindle business a try. I’ve yet to finish The Snowman and, in fact, have no idea how close to the end I am because I have no dog-eared marker to tell me as I would with a proper book. But technologies move on, times change and I’d like to be at least trying to keep up.  My main concern was that I’d want a break from staring at a screen all day but so far, this hasn’t bothered me; time will tell, I’m still only on my first eBook.

As I said in my last post, I think library closures are a sad but probably necessary thing in these cash-strapped times, but I’d be incredibly sad to think I might read to my children  (if/when they appear) stories off an iPad. I want them to experience real books, to carry them to school in their backpacks and keep their favourite ones on their bedside table.

Are we looking at a future without books as we know them? What do you think? Vote in the poll:

[polldaddy poll=4471527]

Is it The End for libraries?

We all know 2011 is the year of cuts, cuts and more cuts; we hear about it on the news approximately five times a day. To be honest, the news is so depressing at the moment it’s a wonder we haven’t all topped ourselves.

Anyhoo, less about death, more about libraries… the public sector is facing some touch choices as the money pots dry up and one such service under threat is that of pubic libraries. Stony Stratford Library, for example, is being targeted for closure and members have made their mark by each withdrawing 15 books and literally emptying the shelves in the Wot No Books campaign. A wicked way to get your point across! There’s also a petition in our local chippy against the closure of what would be my local library, if we used it.                                                

Now then. I’m a huge fan of books and reading and think it’s important for anyone and everyone to have access to them. And libraries, most of them, now offer more than just a free read – DVD rental, computer and printing services, research archives, children’s storybook sessions, crafts etc. But these are all things we can get elsewhere. Are they a “crucial service“? I think not.

I remember visiting the library with my mum when I was a kid and getting so excited that we could choose books and take them home for free as long as we promised to bring them back. And I liked the eery quietness of the place. Fast forward 20 years and I was using the library again, this time in Coalville, Leicestershire. I lived over the road from the library and with no phone line or internet connection in my flat I used the library a lot to conduct my online affairs. I browsed the books and DVDs while I was there and generally liked the peaceful atmosphere.

Another five years later and I haven’t stepped foot in a library for all that time. I have internet connection at home, access to films through BT Vision or I pick them up dead cheap in Asda, there are so many places offering copying and printing services and books I buy via Amazon, either in paperback or eBooks, or I borrow them from my friends. Charity shops are also brilliant for picking up books by top authors for as little as 10p per copy.

So, while libraries offer a great service and one I’d like to think we still need, we actually don’t. They don’t offer anything we can’t get elsewhere. And with most of us already accessing these things via the internet, for those who don’t and can’t – I’m thinking young children and the elderly here – charity shops, car boot sales or fetes offer a great way of picking up books and movies dirt cheap. Not free, but cheap.

And what about starting a book swap scheme in your local area? I have so many books on my shelf and I’ll never throw them out, it’s a record of pretty much everything I’ve ever read and I want it on show. But I’d be more than happy for people to borrow them or swap for books I haven’t read. And for those who need internet access to look for jobs etc, libraries do come in handy, but there are internet cafes out there too.

The country is facing some tough times and deep cuts – as we’re told over and over – have to be made. But I’d rather my taxpayers’ money went on services we really do need and use, like healthcare, support for parents of disabled children, improving public transport etc; not on providing a service that most of us could find somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong, seeing libraries disappear will be a sad, sad thing, the end of an era. But times are changing and we have to accept that as we move on in life, the services we use and need to use will change too.

Picture of empty bookshelves by Andy Roberts