Monday, 18 May 2015

An election - a family affair

For months, the election had been the topic of conversation everywhere.

In the Hammersmith newsagents; ‘You only have the f*cking Sun left, do you think I am a Tory?'

The seedy Tooting pool bar: ‘I really do think that some of what UKIP stand for could be a good thing’.

The elderly lady I interviewed at work: 'If Miliband gets back in, we have had it, I'll be dead but you lot will have some issues.'

Politicians had left a trail of selfies behind them, noticeably splashed across social media. And everyone had apparently metamorphosed into political experts.

With hours to go before the election, my dad was ‘probably going to lose but not certainly’ in his marginal northern constituency.

It is a general election-influential constituency in the country, due to it being such a close call between Labour and the Conservatives.

How do you know if you are in trouble if you are a politician before the election?

When the political big wigs pop by, especially Boris. And, yes, that happened in Warrington South.

Mum doing her duties.

So for dad's faithful team, this just meant knocking on doors – would campaigning at the 11th hour really make a difference?

(Someone has to deliver the paper to start the fire)

Dad replied: “Well we either do something or nothing. One vote could make a difference.’

Dad’s friend, Chris, said, ‘Of course, none of us would normally do this, but it’s Dave’.
Our house had been full of friends helping dad for a week. (below picture - I did warn Chris that he did nothing to overturn the Conservative's reputation with this outfit).

So, off we pavement-pounded to deliver thousands of leaflets and knock on doors to make sure the possible Tory supporters knew there was an election happening and would go to the polling station.

We came across people who still were undecided or who didn’t know if they would get to the polling station.

Not sure my debating skills really helped,  ‘Hey there, would be great if you could vote for Dave. It would get my dad off my back for another five years, and that would be ace.'

All sorts of tactics were used...

Dad's agent Roger got sick of the election day 'will he win' question, it may appear.

We came across jolly couples hand in hand on the way to the polling booth and parents keen to show their children the democratic process.

I didn’t put the leaflet far enough through one letterbox and an angry man demanded I pay his heating bill. I came across someone else whose reason for voting for a particular party was that they score exam grades A- E rather than 1-5. One odd reason. And another Geordie guy who wasn't best pleased when I asked him if he was from Liverpool (luckily he was just decorating a house for a week and wasn't eligible to vote in Warrington South, so I wasn't a negative voting effect canvasser)

At the overnight count, there were whispers as the party supporters watched avidly as the counters were getting through the ballot papers. ‘Area x looking good, Dave’s pile is bigger than Labour's’. Chris and I had the role of checking that the counters put the voting slips on the correct candidate's pile.

The BBC exit poll had the constituency losing at around 3am so the knife edge continued.

(Team = me  - Liverpool Echo reporter's tweet)

In the end, Dad's retirement armchair has another 5 years to wait as he won his seat- obviously down to my in depth knowledge of the Tory policies.

I am still waiting for my bonus....

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why we should do more to sex up local politics; It lets old people cross roads

As part of my role as a local journalist, I go to local council meetings.

Parish council meetings are usually fairly difficult to sit through, larger town council ones are better and county council meetings can be quite lively and exciting.

At many meetings, I am the only person below the age of 45 and I am often the only woman.

At times, they are boring.

And at other times, they are intimidating.

However, I once was in a parish council meeting in a dingy village hall and 50 emotive pensioners came in banging their walking sticks ordering the councillors to agree to fund a £10,000 road crossing for them.

The local politicians were all rather shocked at how passionate the troop of elderly people were. They may also have been scared, either way the money was released imminently.

And, this is why local politics is important. It lets old people cross roads.

After the crossing was built, a 90-year-old man said he was able to cross the road independently for the first time in years.

He could go to the shops, and for him, that was life changing. He no longer had to endure the daily tango with death as he fetched his pint of milk.

I randomly voxpopped some of my friends, ‘I don’t vote because I don’t know enough about it all, and I don’t feel like I should have a say’ was the general response.

Another train of thought was ‘I wasn’t brought up thinking about politics and now I don’t know where to start’.

Take a look around; local politics is everywhere though, from releasing funds to fixing potholes, to deciding if a big development should be built down the road potentially blighting the village, to doing more to get more working class kids into grammar schools.
Councils do really wield power.

I recently reported on a school where students voted for how they thought a pot of county council money should be spent. They had an assembly on the different options, the voting turnout was 90 per cent and they all seemed to be genuinely interested in their community and how it could be improved.

The students are now following up the projects to see how the funds they influenced are being used.

On a local level, councils should be actively trying to get young people involved in the voting process from a young age. Councils need to be made relevant.

The words of my friends really should ring a warning bell to the entire democratic process.

Unless more people turn out and vote, politicians will serve the people who do rather than focussing on each demographic.

And then, how will the councillors know that the old people want to cross the road?

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Office v home working and what will happen if I get an urge to tidy up my sock drawer?

Our office closed down, which means I will be working more from home. Technology makes it increasingly easy to work from home, but for me this simply spells disaster.
For some people, working from home is ideal; you can get out of bed at 8.55am and roll onto your computer - begin to answer work emails in your dressing gown while slurping your bowel of Kellogs.
A guy in my office claimed it was ideal as his clients could relate to him better when they hear his dog barking away in the background of his conversations.
For me, this is a far more problematic set up. I need routine, structure and face to face social stimulation. I need some sort of office banter, even bad office banter.
Each day, when I would drive to work, I would reverse onto a busy London road, which is not the most relaxing way to start a day. I would often have to battle my way through West London, avoiding cyclists and pedestrians to get onto the A40.
At work, I would be more likely to get randomers calling me on the office phones like the woman who thought she had called a beauty salon and our parallel conversations were rather confusing.
I would, however, prefer to do this than work from home. After all, the journey gave me time to listen to Radio Four, I can have lunch with work friends, I can gossip with the receptionist and as a journalist, I can pick up good interview techniques from colleagues.

At home, the issues:
-Distractions, from flatmates to simply having an urge to tidy my sock drawer.
-The fridge is metres away so obesity is simply part of the deal. I could become one of those people who needs to be lifted by a crane as it wasn't ever necessary to leave the flat so I wasn't to realise what was happening (arguably slightly far-fetched).
-There are so many more laptop issues when working from home - so your boss thinks you are being a shirker, but really you are having a panic attack as your laptop won't connect to the system.
- People tend to be ruder on emails than they would be face-to-face, which results in me simply getting in a flap.
-There is a risk that I could spend the entire day inside my pokey basement flat, which may result in me developing hermit-like personality traits.
-There is no real reason to sport bright pink lipstick.
- There is no one to relay the ins and outs of your entire weekend to.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


A swarm of tourists following a man with a flag around London is the image that the word ‘Japanese’ would have conjured in my mind, before my flight landed at Narita Airport, Tokyo.

The first thing that struck me about the city is how clean it is, the second that people genuinely queue for the tube and the third that people don’t eat or smoke on the streets.

It is as chaotic as you would imagine a city with 30 million inhabitants to be, but it also has a sense of calmness about it – its people seem focussed, respectful and dignified.

Parts of the city and the city of Osaka that I visited, you would imagine should belong in a science-fiction movie where flashy neon lights make a suffocating blanket of colour. Arriving at any of the main tube stations, you can simply feel everyone marching to a rapid drumbeat. The kanji character signs make the tube stations a jungle of foreignness at times, I got lost repeatedly.

In the electrical area of Tokyo, Akihabara, I found tides of businessmen playing on video consoles after their day's work. Besides electronic retailers lining the streets, you can find robot restaurants and maid cafes where the waiters dress up as certain characters.

The mayhem of the world's biggest fish market, Tsukijishijo, and dodging the scooters carrying purchased fish at 6am were definitely highlights of Tokyo for me.
Women often walk around with sun umbrellas as to ensure their skin stays as pale as possible; judging by how well they age, we should take note.

On a trip to Hakone with my friend, Liz, we stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel, a Ryokan, bathed naked in the traditional baths, Onsens, and took part in traditional and ever popular in Japan, karaoke. Heartfelt karaoke.

Egg ice cream featured in the trip to see the active volcano, Mount Fuji.

In search of a paradoxical mix of what the country could offer, I visited an esoteric Buddhist town, known as Koyasan, after taking a subway, two trains, a cable car and a bus from the city of Osaka. I slept in one of the sacred temples with the monks, dinner was served in my room at 5pm, and then I wasn't allowed to leave until morning prayer at 5am. Rather than discovering my inner spiritual being, the only thing that I discovered about myself was that I didn’t like Buddhist vegetarian food and it simply made me crave the madhouses of Japanese cities.

The attractive city of Kyoto is where they still have geishas, as well as endless temples, - according to a Japanese couchsurfer I met, it simply takes an intense interest in Japanese culture and 6 years of training to become a geisha. After I asked him endless questions about Japan, he joked that I could qualify; always good to have a back up career option...

Japan boasts one of the world's lowest crime rates and in comparison to a trip round South America, it is far less exhausting for a woman. I am told by people who have lived in the country for a while that ‘passive aggressiveness’ is common.

I don’t think that I have ever been anywhere where I have had such a yearning to know so much more about the way of life and its people by the time I leave.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Marathon Madness

My Marathon Madness - from being chased by dogs to the start line

"If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." Katherine Switzer, New York City Marathon winner

Do you know one of the worst ways to wake up? By your mother after she has run 20 miles and you are in bed. There is now nothing you can say or do to make up for the fact she has ‘made the most of‘ the morning and you feel groggy at midday.

It must have been a post-Christmas blowout cry of desperation. But, I saw the charity email at work asking if we would advertise to our readers for a last space to run the London Marathon. And I thought, why not?

Well in hindsight, there are plenty of reasons why not. But, hindsight is a fabulous thing I guess.

I rang my marathon-pro mother asking if she thought I could train for a marathon in 16 weeks.

“Of course” she replied.

I should have known that mum is nothing but a fitness anomaly and thinks nothing of running 15 miles before breakfast so really, I should have gone for a second opinion.

Training began in the snow. I shall add that I have done a few 10km races, but I feel that marathon running is a rather big step up. I was dropped off somewhere in the countryside in Cheshire, I put on the ‘The Trap’ theme tune and I started jogging – with my hat, gloves and fleece as obviously the weatherman failed to consider Laura was training for a marathon.

Then I got ‘marathon training packs’ thrown at me. I soon realised what I had let myself in for - A seven day 24 hour endurance test. I simply do not understand how people can work and stick rigidly to one of these plans. What we really need is 'marathon leave' from work. I stuck to my plan loosely.

I tried to run a few times in the week for around 6 miles and then a long run at the weekends.

I purchased one of those pro rucksacks. I felt a bit like one of those people at school who would have six tennis rackets and came across all threatening, but could barely hit the ball.

Anyway, the pro rucksack was important to carry water.

Running has actually been a good way to see the London sights. From Sunday afternoons in Battersea park to the bridges and Kensington Gardens.

I got lost in Wapping one day and was rather close to using my emergency money to get a cab home. And another time I rang my sister in tears as I fell over and some dogs were chasing me. Whatever you are meant to do in these situations, I am pretty sure what I did was not it - panic, scream and cry.

I ran a half marathon in Milton Keynes in the snow.

And then my Virgin London Marathon number came through the door. I can honestly say that my heart sank. I mean, the administration details seemed to be beyond my capabiltiies for my French coursework deadline at university, so why did this one work? How did I manage not to mess up the bureaucracy, when for once, it would have been pretty handy?

I definitely do not have the Paula Radcliffe type body. But, running just seems to be about self- belief. And I do think that if you think you can do it, it helps you in other parts of your life too. Obviously, I am talking about getting round the marathon unscathed for the most part, I am not talking to you people out there who do sub four hour marathons.

Everyone talks about the amazing feeling of camaraderie there is at a marathon. However, will this be enough when I meet the 20-mile wall? Doubtful.

And five days to go.

Just giving page

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Have you fallen prey to the London commuter stereotype?

Diverse, exciting and vibrant are some words that can be used to describe London. But brash, unfriendly and reserved are others to describe its residents.

And Que PASO!? It has happened.

I catch myself fuming at the fact the tube is late and huffing and puffing as if Transport for London have tried to delay the Jubilee Line to exasperate me exclusively. Or ranting out loud to myself in the car because there is so much traffic (The worst offenders to raise the heart rate are people who follow emergency vehicles to get ahead)

What do I expect? I live in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world and it is rush hour. But there is never time for logic when I am attempting to pay the congestion charge, not knock over any cyclists and not get lost concurrently.

Officially. I have turned into one of those typical stressed London commuters. I have fallen prey to this metropolis city.

I, technically, would say I am a northerner and in the north you say you are going to London and there’s always someone to remind you how vicious and unfriendly people are here.

‘No-one ever speaks on the tube’. What on earth do you want strangers to say to one another? Remember, it is underground so we can't really talk about the weather.

When I get on the tube at 7am, I quite like the collective feeling of melancholy. People avoiding eye contact, suits me. A Brazilian guy recently asked me why us conservative Englishmen actually go to great lengths to avoid eye contact on public transport.

‘We use it as a way to meet girls’ he said. Gee Whizz - I can worry about my appearance at a bar and not on the tube if it were to be considered a dating ground.

Because I have been known to get lost in other countries, I do try and help people out on the London transport system. Occasionally, I even stop when people are holding a map looking puzzled and sometimes use some linguistic skills to help out - minor saint!?. Oh and I help out mums with prams because.... I feel I should.

But that is about as far as it goes.

I don't think I sit there with a Cheshire smile on my face because it is 8am and I have just come out of my nightly coma - which took 34 alarms and a phone call from my mum to get me out of. I am also probably late. And yes that is obviously Transport for London's fault.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Social Fusion, at all ages, is irreplaceable

What would you think if you met a 16-year-old who said they wanted to get good at robbery like their brother? Would you judge them? Would you cross the road and continue listening to your iPod? Or, would you think about what type of life they may have had so far?

This summer, I have been working at the Challenge - a facilitator of the Government funded, National Citizen Service. It has been described by the Government as a ‘non military national service’, and this year 30,000 16-17 year olds took part across the country.

The idea is that young people come together from different social backgrounds, mix, increase their leadership skills, engage in their communities and ultimately encourage social action.

The programme works on the grounds that the more exposure youths have to people with different backgrounds, the more open-minded people should be.

After all, the ability to be tolerant only really comes with education and exposure so the luxury of meeting different kinds of people is vital.

In my group there was an array of young people from various ethnicities including a girl who had just got straight A* GCSE grades and attends a private school and a guy who had spent time in a young offenders institution for robbery.

“When I first met you I thought you would be too different, from a different postcode to me”, said one boy to another."I thought you would be stuck up but you're actually really nice", said someone else to a well spoken girl.

What do you think of rich people? Snobs, vulnerable and white were some of the answers I got in one evening session I did.

During the couple of months, I learnt some urban lingo so I could understand the chat.

South London urban lingo… (Perhaps politicians could adopt to get some street cred!?) Here are a few new words I have acquired:

Rushed – beaten up
Dope – great
Bare – lots of
Sic - great
Heavy – good
Calm – good
Gassed- Showing off
Screwed – stared at
YOLO - you only live once (Apparently everyone uses this but I had never heard it)

Some of the stories I heard about their schools were incomparable to my own tweed jacket experience, including a scheduled gambling session when kids were meant to be in class, girls learning how to climb walls so they wouldn’t get ‘rushed’ by a gang……stepping into the wrong postcode…. One girl who got much better GCSE results than I got hadn't told her mum yet as she "hadn't asked".

How it works..

First there is an outward bound type week when twelve 16 year olds who do not know each other but are from roughly the same area take part in some challenging activities.

This is followed by the Team Challenge, which is a community based week. We went to a home with people with learning disabilities and the group coached them football, this was actually quite emotional seeing people who the Daily Mail would just pass off as ‘HOODIES’ teaching a group of disabled people and mixing so well as a group.

The third week is the Real Challenge ending up with the group pitching a community action campaign plan in front of various dragons (business people, councillors etc).

And throughout September we are doing our social action days which include dressing up as hoodies and helping people with their shopping to try and stop unfair stereotypes and a campaign raising awareness about domestic abuse.

Does it work?

Ultimately, the young people have to want to do it. One rewarding comment came from a boy who was a ‘hard looking’ hoodie stereotype, a too cool for school guy who appeared to be completely disinterested in taking a leadership role confessed on the last day that the thought of standing up and talking to an audience terrified him. He was pushed, he did it and he said ‘ It wasn’t so bad was it..’.

Another boy who had in his own words ‘almost killed someone’, I think a knife was involved, had been to youth prison, and wanted to know if he could do the programme again.

It is costly, but a good Government investment nonetheless? Will a stint of inspiration, social mixing and confidence building at a pivotal life age translate into a stronger and more cohesive society?

I guess it does seem controversial seeing as so many year round youth projects are being forced to close down because of the austerity cuts.

Only time will tell. I certainly got a lot out of it. Maybe all tweed jacket schoolies should do the same.