SO, a car has been “abandoned” on our street.
The Mother Superior says it’s been there for days with its window down.
A bit of damage on the driver’s wing.
“Maybe it’s been stolen and dumped,” she speculates.
“No, it’s worse than that,” I tell her.
“It’s been inconsiderately parked…”
It appears other neighbours aren’t best pleased.
Next Door, Next Door On This Side, Them Over The Road, Next Door But One and This One On This Side.
The close is full of harumphing.
A day later, the offending car is still there – oozing criminality.
“I’m calling the police,” I decisively announce.
Then I realise I’d have to call it on 101 – the non-emergency line.
“Hello, I wish to report something that isn’t important,” I imagine myself saying to an uninterested call handler.
It sounds pathetic. I’ve called 101 before; sometimes it’s engaged.
This might involve being put on hold. Or having to ring them back – long after the initial excitement has worn off.
I put down the phone quietly. “I might send an email,” I offer.
My conscience sniggers: “Welcome to the Big Society Mr Cameron! Or is it Blair’s Britain?”
At mention of the police, the six-year-old’s eyes are like saucers.
“Is the robber going to go to jail?” she asks, convicting “him” of “robbery” without trial.
“No…” I reply half-heartedly.
“Is he going to rot?” she continues, colouring in a butterfly.
“And get no food nor hot water.”
Her image of jail is rooted in nursery rhymes.
“Jails aren’t like that anymore,” explains the Mother Superior.
My instinctive reaction is to concur.
“No – they’re like holiday camps now. Except you come out with a degree in FIFA 14.”
I decide not to say this out loud because it will only confuse her even more.
The Mother Superior is sucked into an explanation of the shortcomings of the justice system.
“Some of them get off scot-free,” she tells the six-year-old.
I intervene at this point: “All right Richard Littlejohn! Calm down. Can we get back to the main plot?”
Undercover of darkness, we visit the ‘crime scene’.
I have a torch which kind of makes me senior investigating officer.
“We first saw it on Sunday morning,” I say across the bonnet, a bit like Bodie (RIP).
“Which means whoever dumped it, did so sometime on Saturday night, right?”
The Mother Superior nods. “Maybe it was a drunk driver?” she says.
“They dumped it then fled the scene?”
I think for a minute: “Well, whatever it was, we better crack this case or the DA’s gonna bust both our…you know.”
Two days later the truth is revealed. Driving into the close, a woman is driving the car away.
A neighbour (Her Down The Bottom End On This Side) explains she was visiting when she broke down.
“We never even noticed!” squeals the Mother Superior.
I notice that no one apologises for the car being in the way all that time…
SO, we’re officially into the ‘no’ season.
The season of saying no.
As in: “No, you’re not having an iPod for Christmas. You’re six years old.”
These are the opening shots in a long and unwinnable war.
Similar to Afghanistan and Iraq, it’ll drag on for 10 years; each side becoming more entrenched.
When I can’t win arguments with the six-year-old daughter, I reset to 1970s working class Dad.
“I don’t care who’s got one at school…you’re six years old. You’re not having one.”
“Who do you think I am? Rockerfeller?”
There’s a certain joy in repeating to your own children what was once said to you.
“You’ll get a doll and a drum and a kick up the bum for Christmas if you’re not careful!”
The six-year-old is enjoying the banter so I carry on.
<"So what would you put on this iPod then?” I scathingly ask.
She thinks for a minute then shouts: "1D!"
The Mother Superior steps in to explain to me what 1D means.
Like I’m the out-of-touch High Court Judge or Father Jack.
"Come on Daddy,” she says. "Get down with the kids.”
I cut her off: "I know 1D! It’s that Harry and that Niall and that other one with the hair."
"Simon Cowell puppets!" I say, slamming the chair for effect.
Everyone in the house is looking at me – even the goldfish.
With my attentive audience, I say: "When I was growing up…”
And with these words everyone leaves the room. But the pets can’t because they’re trapped.
“We listened to real music, didn’t we?” I tell the goldfish.
“Music with soul. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones. Joan Baez! Blondie!"
“Kate Bush and Babooshka! Mad as a hatter was Kate Bush, but what a woman… what an artist!”
The fish decide to swim into their mock castle and wait till I’ve gone away, but at least I’ve always got the dog’s ear.
Man’s best friend (if your definition of friendship is defined by picking up the other’s poo, which I suppose is quite a good analogy in a way).
I carry on: “Of course, there was parental and establishment outrage towards The Beatles and Stones, wasn’t there son?”
Holding the dog’s head and looking into his eyes, I tell him: “But they wrote their own songs, didn’t they boy!
"And played their own instruments! They don’t do that today do they son?” I shake his head.
“All you need to be a star today is high cheekbones and strutting round with your kegs halfway down your backside, don’t you?”
I make a note to myself.
* Make all underpants grey again – no one will want to walk around with them on show then.
I will introduce this when the country sees sense and I walk through the doors of Number 10.
“Blinking iPods! Who gives iPods to six year olds? iParents, that’s who. iParenting.
Palm them off with a screen.
The dog jumps down and goes to lie on his bed looking depressed.
So there we were in Kendal last Sunday for the Christmas Lights switch on.
Rows of exhausted parents pushing buggies up Stricklandgate in a drizzle (well done Kendal Rotary by the way).
Every year for six years we’ve taken the eldest to see Father Christmas switch on the lights. But she’s getting older and wiser.
The mistake was getting to Abbot Hall too early (Mother Superior’s fault) and spending a bit too much time in close proximity to Father Christmas himself (my fault).
For 10 minutes, the six-year-old stared at him with a look of intense curiosity.
Chewing a nail, she returned to us and asked: “But is that the real Father Christmas?”
“Of course it is!” I replied categorically at exactly the same time as the Mother Superior said: “No, it’s just one of his helpers.”
The six-year-old looked at us both with confusion written across her face.
There are no winners with questions like that. No-one really benefits.
This is the unglamorous side to parenting. Everyone ends up a little worse off than they were.
To fill the awkward silence, I shouted: “Look!” and stabbed a finger towards a distant big dog.
“One of his reindeers is loose!”
I set off in pretend pursuit. Oh ye subtle art of distraction, how often you have saved me.
With both kids pre-occupied hunting down a non-existent ‘reindeer,’ I conspiratorially turned to the Mother Superior.
By complete coincidence, she was conspiratorially turning towards me.
We are about to start the process known as Silent Arguing or Blame Parenting.
This involves us whispering to each other what the other one should have actually said. T
his happens a lot in our Coalition.
People without children probably assume that agreeing on things jointly as parents is easy.
That you are kindred spirits.
That you agreed on everything before children and you will agree on everything once you have children.
You also may have enjoyed lazy summer picnics together in hayfields and been content just listening to each other breathe.
All of this will end when you have children – usually within seconds of the umbilical cord being cut.
“Silly Daddy should have cut the cord with a single snip shouldn’t he? Not sawing at it like he’s carving turkey!”
But let don’t me put you off having children.
The more people who become parents, the more personally satisfying it is for those of us who already have children and want other people to suffer.
Anyway, we head to Glasgow soon for a kids-free weekend! The Mother Superior already has a list.
I’ve not checked but from memory this should entail:
* Worrying about the kids
* Texting/phoning home about the kids
* Buying presents for the kids
* Talking about the kids
* Talking about how great the kids are (after wine)
Then we can return home and genuinely tell them: “We’ve missed you so much.”
Because we genuinely do!
So, I’m off work. The kids are off school as well, so let’s just be totally clear that I’m neither on “holiday” or “having a break.”
Whenever I’m off work, our Mam “ramps up” the texting.
Last Saturday she texted to say: “I’ve set me alarm to put me clock back.”
She thinks you have to turn all your clocks back at precisely 2am or be sucked into the vortex.
But at least I’ve had time to solve the energy crisis while I’m off.
And what I’ve decided is we’re using too much power.
Even the goldfish have got a light on in our house. What do goldfish need a light for?
They don’t know it’s dark. They’re supposed to forget everything after two seconds.
To save energy, we should start stopping telly at midnight again as well, like we used too.
None of this Hitman and Her on at 4.30am.
You’ve got a choice between a white dot and a little girl infront of a blackboard holding a clown – now go to bed!
Who’s buying fluff removers on the Shopping Channel at 3am anyway?
What national demand is being served?
We should also shut 24-hour supermarkets.
“I’m sorry you’re short of milk Mr Butcher, but it’s three seconds past five.”
That’s what happened in the Seventies – you dealt with it.
And stop making big fridges! I’m sure our Mam and Dad only used to use the fridge on “special occasions”.
And it was only a half fridge back then as well.
You fill a massive fridge and you’re eating more, Girlfriend. There ain’t a thing Uncle Gok can do about it.
I’m selling the Wii as well. It was good for about two weeks until we realised Phil and Sandra over the road could see me doing star jumps in the front room.
I tour our house and there’s a light on in every single room. “It’s like Caesar’s Palace in here!” I shout.
The dryer’s on in the box room. St Jude’s forecast and we’ve got washing in that could be out there on the line.
It’s always been very humid in our box room – like the Amazon. Lizards on the wall.
Whenever a big chunk of the Antarctic breaks away on a David Attenborough programme, I say: “That’s because of our box room, that is…”
In the middle of the night, I went downstairs – even the dog’s got a light on!
“Reading a novel are we?” I ask.
I don’t know about you, but the Mother Superior has three ways of telling the dog to get on its bed.
1: “Onyourbed!” said extremely quickly as one full word.
2: A long, deep, baritone: “Beeeeed!”
3: Then when he ignores her: “Get On. Your Bed. Right. Now.”
A haughty, high-pitched version as she stamps behind him, following him to his bed.
I’m going for a lie down in a dark room. I need to save energy, we’ve a sleepover later.
I‘M “this close” to giving up television. Not that I watch much anyway.
These days, after 7pm, we can get away with watching 10 minutes before we’re forced to pause it.
Both kids have started coming down after Bedtime with little bulletins.
This is what happens when you remove the babygate from the top of the stairs.
It hit home during the England World Cup qualifiers.
The national anthems were being sung. Every country’s national anthem sounds happier than ours, doesn’t it?
The camera pans to the England supporters. Are they fans or are some the EDL?
You never know these days.
“Mummy do you know where the torch is? Daddy, are you coming to my birthday party?”
I don’t say it but inside I’m thinking: “I’m. Trying. To. Watch. The. Football.”
I used to get excited by England nights – not any more.
I only watch now in the hope they’ll be embarrassed by inferior opposition.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart is dressed like Big Bird and has left the head in the changing room.
When the children are not coming downstairs during the game, the Mother Superior is talking over the commentary.
I prefer her over Andy Townsend if I’m being honest.
She’s enlightening me about the range of toppings she and a friend ordered at Frankie & Benny’s for the kids:
(This is useful information to me. In case I ever go to Frankie & Benny’s, which I wouldn’t.
And ordered a child’s size Pizza, which I would never do.)
Later she asks: “Did you ever play Yahtze when you were younger?”
I reply: “No. I played the one with the cheeses.”
“Trivial Pursuits?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply: “Trivial Pursuits.”
On the television, around the side of the pitch, a Mars banner flashes up.
“I could just fancy a Mars…” says the Mother Superior, adding swiftly: “Don’t put that in your column.”
I’ve never told her football is not a talking event. This isn’t “Talk Sport”.
You know how when Desperate Fishwives is on and you don’t like me talking?
Well, the same rule apply during the football.
The difference being I wouldn’t tell you to stop talking….
haven’t event realised Wayne Rooney is even on the pitch with a bum bag strapped to his hair transplant.
The game is paused again because the little one has come down.
She enters the room just as England captain Steven Gerrard shamelessly does that finger-to-nose discharge.
“Daddy, why did that man blow a bogey out of his nose?”
“He forgot his tissues,” I say, covering for him. “Now bed!”
The Mother Superior scoops her up and takes her out of the room.
I get a few minutes peace watching the game. Then I get a text from Our Mam.
“Did you buy any shares in the Royal Mail?”
I text back: “No”.
She texts me back: “Neither did I. Bye.”
As I stare at her reply, England score and I miss it.
I am going to Brazil next year. Alone.
Five feet nothing tall, slow on her feet but agile in the mind, Nana has a tissue up her sleeve and a packet of polos in her pinny.
Born in the black and white days of 1925, it still amazes me how Nana survives 2013 in HD.
Of fast cars on the estate and “swipe cards at the Co-op.”
Over the road, the Post Office went years ago and where you used to be able to buy wool and clothes, is now a Thai takeaway.
As she breaks out the Custard Creams, Nana tells me she’s had ‘no end of trouble’ with her “wash house top.”
This is the roof of the outhouse building that houses her outdoor toilet, coal bunker and Grandad’s long-locked garden shed.
“The other week…I was in the back kitchen….washing my teacups…when all this steam and water came on my windows. I came in here, in the front room, and thought: what’s exploded? I daren’t go out and I never slept a wink all night.”
Much later, my uncle discovered that a neighbour had decided to hose down her roof to clear it of moss.
Back when Nana was born, a new invention took to the streets of London – double decker buses.
A young director called Alfred Hitchcock released his first film…and a Margaret Thatcher came into the world…
Much has changed in 90 years but new technology stopped in Nana’s house around the 80s.
However, there’s been a development on that front.
“Did I tell you I’ve been fully rewired?” she exclaims.
It transpires the council has been out to replace her fraying electrics.
“They were lovely fellas but by gum did it make a lot of mess,” she tuts disapprovingly.
Nana still wears the same blue and white checked apron of the 1970s assembly line worker.
But the nearby slipper factory on the estate shut down, and then the kids burnt it down. Gone are the jobs that once employed her daughter and son-in-law.
One of her great grandsons is: “doing well for himself.”
“He applied for a fork lift truck driver,” says Nana. “An do you know, Ellis, 200 people applied and he got down to the last six,” she says, visibly inflating with pride.
Success is narrow in 2013 for certain people of certain places and certain backgrounds.
Grandad’s chair is empty now as it has been for years. Half a century they were married but the day after he died, Nana rose, put on her pinny, and started dusting.
Some nights, she hears music.
“I don’t know whether it’s next door or the angels tuning up for me!,” she laughs.
She is a special generation and we’ll miss them when they’re gone.
MAY 16, 2013:
LET’S get a goldfish, I said out of nowhere…
They’re low-maintenance pets.
Canvassing support, I turned to the Mother Superior: “They’re very calming…and they’ll teach the kids about death.”
Next thing you know, we’re in the store – signing the kids up to their Pet Death NVQ.
So, we’ve had a death in the family. Jelly the Goldfish is no more. Goldie, the bigger of the two had started attacking him.
We separated them but when we got up the next day it was too late
Jelly was lying sideways down on the pebbles, not moving.
I rang Our Mam for guidance.
I said: “Ow! Our Mam? The goldfish has croaked. What do I tell the nipper?”
She said: “Ring us back in half an hour, love. Homes under the Hammer’s just come on.”
This is what passes for the ‘support network’ on my side of the family.
The six-year-old took Jelly’s death badly.
They had been good friends.
If Hollywood was making a film of their relationship, it would show how Jelly would jump clean out of his bowl and ‘high five’ her with his tail….
“Will Jelly go to heaven?” she wailed.
“Yes,” I replied, unconvincingly. “Fishy heaven….Erm, fish heaven.”
“How will he get there?” she demanded.
“Well, we’ve got to bury him first,” I said.
She had a think for a while and then said: “How does he get from the ground to the sky?”
With drama and a manic zeal in my eyes, I replied: “Fish magic!”
The Mother Superior came over and shoved me out of the way.
Sitting the daughter down, she talked softly about how, sometimes, it was better to be dead than poorly.
“Yes,” I added bitterly.
“Like when Daddy had man flu that time…”
Later, a short burial service took place in the garden.
As we walked from the garden, the six-year-old asked: “What’ll happen now?”
Turning to her, in and upbeat and positive voice, I answered: “Wellllllllll, all his flesh’ll rot off and then all that’ll be left is a skeleton…”
Behind us, the Mother Superior coughed loudly.
When I turned around, she was shaking her head furiously – with both eyes on “full beam”.
“Too much?” I silently mouthed. She silently mouthed back: “Much too much!”
To get her own back, she’s called in ‘the authorities’.
She telephoned the Fish Police and they asked for a water sample from Our Fish Tank.
“It’s just a routine investigation,” explained the Mother Superior.
“It could be the water, it could be the filter…you could have been feeding them too much!”
I set off nervously for the store and inside made a beeline for the first Saturday girl I saw.
I hurriedly handed over the water sample, blurted out minimal info and then vamoosed.
I was just at the exit door when a voice called after me.
“Ah, sir! Just one other thing. Can you ah – can you account for your movements on or around the time of da fishes death?”
A LEGION of zombies invaded The Westmorland Shopping Centre last night (Friday August 31st).
They were recreating scenes of 1978 gore epic, Dawn Of The Dead.
I was locked inside with only a notebook and camera…
Photos & words below and video at the end of the page
I’M on the roof of the Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal, but there’s nowhere left to run.
All doors are locked, night is coming and 26 brain-chewing zombies are lurching closer.
The ugly undead – decomposing faces with eyeballs horribly twisted in their sockets and many dragging a leg.
The illusion is broken as tonight’s director Richard Dedomenici shouts: “cut”.
Richard, 34, is filming Dawn Of The Dead Redux – a five minute remake which will be shown in the centre on Sunday night (September 1).
Redux means “brought back”.
It’s a term he says he “stole” from Francis Ford Coppola.
Richard is half Italian and cuts a dash with his black spiky hair, mustard shirt and luminous trainers.
He addresses Kendal’s undead: “Sorry Zombies! Can we go again, please?”
The zombies relax. They may crave brains in the original film but the caterers tonight have supplied sausage rolls from Greggs.
Richard, who has travelled up from his home in Watford, describes himself as an “artist” but he’s also an anarchist.
He launched The Redux Project in an attempt “to disrupt the cinema industry” – making “counterfeit sections of popular films.”
There’s no script or storyboard. He carries round an iPad open at Dawn Of The Dead on YouTube and then arranges the cast to copy the scene.
The original film came out in 1978 with the strapline: “When There’s No More Room In Hell, the Dead Will Walk The Earth.”
It centred around a shopping mall being attacked by re-animated corpses.
Written off by some as a gore fest, it gained greater acclaim in later years as a startling commentary about the direction of American society.
Richard, standing outside Poundland, explains: “You don’t realize it when you first watch it but you are seeing all these references to consumerism and capitalism.
“It’s a metaphor for a capitalist and consumer-orientated society. The people turn into monsters. They become mutants – they won’t share and are only focussed on what they want. Not a bad allegory for today…from a horror movie from the 1970s.”
Anne Lees, 45, from Kendal, has a fake open sore on her face but sums up tonight best: “How many times can you get to see zombies in Kendal?” she asks.
Our leading man is Ben Neve, 34 who clasps a plastic rifle and a walkie talkie.
“It’s the ultimate zombie movie,” enthuses Ben, who has three different versions of the film back home in Storth.
“It was made by George Romero and he’s the master. His first was Night of The Living Dead but with this, he had a bit more budget and knew the people who owned the mall in Pittsburgh where it was filmed.”
“Zombies are the best monsters. They’re so cheap to do, there’s no fancy animatronics – no CGI. You just get people in make-up and you have an instant army.”
Ian Parker, 47, from Kendal, was with son Callum, 12, a Queen Katherine School pupil.
Ian explained: “I thought it would be something interesting to do. It’s local, Callum could get involved, it’s a really good idea to redux the original film and we wanted to support Mintfest.”
Turning to son Callum, he says: “He’s given me plenty of tips on how to walk like a zombie…”
Roberta Phillips, 17, had travelled from Heysham and was having her make-up applied.
“It’s just the chance to do some acting really. I’ve done a short film before so was interested in trying this,” she says.
IT man Tom Newton, 42, of Kendal, said: “It’s my favourite film of all time. The fact that it’s scary, funny, it’s one of the first of its kind, but at the end, it finishes with some stupid goblin music!”
Melissa Jackson, 21, from Kendal, is an apprentice at Kendal Museum.
She said: “I’ve never done anything with Mintfest before and always wanted too. I love horror films and dressing up. I’ve been practicing at work all day… when it’s been quiet of course!”
Dawn Of The Dead Redux will be shown for free between 6.30pm-7.30pm on Sunday September 1 at The Westmorland Shopping Centre and is a certificate 12.
We have played Gin Rummy endlessly.
We are Swallows and Amazons, although no-one wants to be ‘Titty’.
On our last night, we were in deep slapping seawater off Newquay with the light fading fast.
Shivering next to me on bodyboards were the six-year-old daughter and the 12-year-old nephew.
Out at sea, weeks of searing temperatures are stirring up one giant electric weather cocktail.
Huge waves and torrential rain are heading right here – to Fistral Beach – all powered by a supermoon.
Hunkered down in a beach hut bar ‘keeping watch’ is the Buddhist Big Sister.
If it’s a toss up between us shouting ‘help’ and the ‘hunky barman’ saying ‘Hi’ – we’re all gonners.
But I’d rather drown at sea than spend another night in the cottage watching Nephew X Box “on the buttons”.
Console games have a place in today’s home but all things in moderation, chum.
Working in the media, I can see how childhood obesity has happened; how our kids have been scared off the streets at night
And if anyone wants to know why UK kids become overweight, you only need listen to their equivalent of the Birdie Song.
Its chorus goes: “McDonald’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.”
The exponents of this subliminal poison should be hunted down, frogmarched through a Type 2 Diabetes Ward then openly flogged in a town square – preferably within sight of Greggs.
In the bodyboard shop, a surfer dude with a deep mahogany tan had asked me if I wanted to upgrade for training sessions.
I shook my head: “No way, Brah. I don’t need lessons. I watched Point Break back-to-back in the 90s.”
So we’re surfing off Fistral Beach; waiting for ‘our wave.’
When the big roller finally hit, both kids flapped desperately for the shore like baby seals fleeing a killer whale.
I slapped on to my board with all the grace and finesse of a side of beef being thrown onto a butcher’s slab.
Slipping off, I went under, clawing sand. When I came up again, the half light was filled with shrieks of raw enjoyment.
The kids were whooping it up on the shore. It was the happiest I had ever seen them.
They were both alive somewhere behind the eyes.
In a place no phones or telly or video games will ever reach.
It would have been fitting to end this series here with some over-arching moral code.
But the truth is, all I could think of, that stormy night on a cold beach, was a line from Point Break.
“It was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit.”
Heading back to the beach bar, we couldn’t find the Buddhist Big Sister.
Then there was a loud shout from the corner.
She was beckoning us over with a Tequila Sunrise in hand.
“Oi, Keanu! Over here!” she shouted.
I’ve been on news desk for the last ten days and in that time, I’ve probably sifted through the best part of 2500 emails and dealt with a lot of PR and marketing calls.
I thought it might be helpful for people to have a checklist of the best approach. I encountered some really good examples and naturally some bad ones.
Many of the smaller organisations don’t get PR training so might appreciate the advice but even the highly-adept PR professionals can benefit from remembering simple techniques. So here goes:
Always summarise your story in a SINGLE paragraph at the top of your email and include your phone number. Too many press releases are over-written (I was guilty of this when in PR). They often bury their strongest news line in the middle. You may be announcing that Elvis has returned but if you don’t say this until paragraph 19, it’s going to be missed. No matter how important your story is, or how great you think you can write, most news desks probably won’t read past par 3-4. You are competing for their attention and they have the attention span of a gnat. Distractions are everywhere! You have about 30 seconds to score – don’t waste it. I hate business buzzwords but there’s a lot to be said for the ‘kiss principle’: Keep it simple stupid (urgh).
Tell your press release in a single side of A4 if possible. Who, what, why, when, where and how is all you need. Don’t go for a ‘drop intro’ – facts are fine. Also don’t bother prettifying your press releases with templates and company branding and notes to editors that run eight pages. These are marketing materials – learn the difference. Your funders might care about them but newspapers do not. If your release is ‘too decorated’ it will create difficulties transferring it to a news diary or web page. Many newspapers nationwide still have very primitive computer set-ups.
If your news is an event taking place, always give a week to 10 days notice ideally and then follow up. Always put the date, time, venue and contact number for the event at the top of your email. Also tell us whether you can provide photographs to us after the event if we can’t attend. If we can’t get there, don’t take it personally. Every newspaper would love to send dozens of staff to every event but the reality these days is that none of them have this. If you understand this fundamental truth about newspapers early, your life will be much happier.
Don’t over-write your press release. It is frightening how short most news articles are. Recognise this and WRITE SHORTER press releases. If you can craft a tight 200 word press release which has all the necessary information in and a good quote, it stands a really good chance of getting in. Most page lead news articles in our newspaper are about 350 words long. I got a press release this week which was 1750 words long – that’s me cutting 1350 words from your story.
If you do attach photographs check their file size please. We had a 27MB email sent in this week. It sat in junk mail for the morning, slowed up the entire system then IT had to quarantine it, then tazer it. I still don’t know what the pictures were. If you don’t care what size your photographs are, why should anyone care what they show?
If people feature in your press release ideally say where they are from. Not Cumbria, Lancashire – the town. Ideally say what age they are as well. I always ask for people’s ages after having it drummed into me by a news editor. He once wrote a court story about a “JOHN SMITH OF MARKET STREET” and did not include his age, even though it was on the court sheet. It so happened there was a second John Smith who also lived on Market Street who hadn’t pleaded guilty to exposing himself to a passing lady vicar. The John Smith in court was 19-years-old but the innocent John Smith was 87 and the church organist. If my friend had just bothered to include the defendant’s age, he would have avoided a hugely embarrassing apology and legal pay out. Ages are important in news. A 20-year-old man doing 100 parachutes jumps is a story, but how much more bigger is it if he’s 100!
Don’t ring up and over-sell because we’ll be immediately suspicious. ”HEY GUYS! HOW ARE WE ALL FEELING IN THE TEAM TODAY????? GOOD! GOOD!!! JUST DROPPING YOU A LINE TO SAY WE’VE GOT THIS REALLY GREAT STORY THAT WE JUST CAN’T WAIT TO SHARE WITH YOU IF YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES??? ARE YOU ONBOARD???!!!” This hyper brand of American positivity never works for me. Especially when the PR has a Chorley accent. But at the same time, don’t undersell it either. This week we got a press release which had no subject line, no introduction, nothing in the body of the email and was just an attachment. It almost looked like spam, but I recognised the name.
Twitter can be used for tip-offs but Twitter accounts are not always centrally managed by a news desk who carries the most influence. Your story might get missed. Referring people to a press release on a website is also asking too much. We all have phones? Is it really so hard to call?
Always copy your entire press release into the body of the email (the blank white bit). Never attach your press release as a document. I’ll say it again: NEVER ATTACH YOUR PRESS RELEASE AS A DOCUMENT. It sounds ridiculous, but for busy news desks (who have to open dozens of email attachments every day) it’s just another way you sabotage your own release. Some newspaper spam sensors will also quarantine attachments too.
Don’t PDF your press release and then attach as a document. This drives news desks mad. You might as well not bother. No, you might as well surround your press release with chains, put it in a trunk, lock the trunk, then hide the key and pop us over a treasure map with instructions of where you’ve buried it. Amazingly, some large national organisations still PDF press releases. This means for some newspapers, it makes it nearly impossible to easily cut and paste for a follow up on a desk diary , or upload to a webpage. Your office may have Windows 7 – don’t assume everyone else has.
Always take the name of the reporter you were dealing with or have sent information too. If your material isn’t getting into the paper, try and identify who in the newspaper writes about subject and cultivate a direct relationship with them.
Follow up your press release with a QUICK telephone call a few hours later but get off the phone within a minute and always be conscious of newspaper deadlines. Ringing up with an accusatory tone to demand: “Did you get our press release?? We sent it yesterday morning! Are you going to use it?” gets you nowhere. Not enough PR people follow up press releases, in my view. The ones that do follow them up tend to be the larger PR agencies flogging non-stories.
One final point - it’s not a good idea to ring up and complain to a newspaper that they haven’t printed something, only to suffer the ignominy of being told: ‘Erm, actually we have. And we’ve put it online….” This often happens when the PR or marketing person who sent out the press release is misinformed by someone who actually buys the paper and skim reads.
If you’re in PR or Marketing but don’t buy newspapers or at least visit news websites, it’s like saying you play golf but don’t own any clubs.
So, we finally arrived at our site in Cornwall.
The lawns are obsessively-tended here and the hanging baskets get a lot of love.
We drove past a sign: CHILDREN UNDER 10 ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO VISIT – NOT STAY
It didn’t register.
As the barrier slowly raised, the Buddhist Big Sister hissed at my six-year-old on the back seat to “duck down”
Then it all clicked – this was why she had offered us a “free holiday”.
Rather than forego a bargain, “Prudence” had booked us a week in a cottage on a gated retirement complex where kids are shot on sight.
I was about to remonstrate with the sister, but she had wisely fled for reception.
From a nearby gun tower, a red dot appeared on the forehead of my 12-year-old nephew.
Arriving at our cottage, other rules became clear – no barbecues, no music, no playing on the grass.
It went on, but my attention was drawn to a loud wail in the other room.
“Nephew X-Box” had fainted after discovering there was no wifi.
Fortunately, our cottage was only a short distance from a much larger family holiday park and we were welcome to use the facilities there!
Later we went over.
Similar to an Olympic Village, the majority of guests were attired in full sportswear but not outwardly given to exercise.
Exploring the main building, we opened the door on a darkened room and tables of angry faces turned on us.
Two hundred albino vampires are indoors playing Bingo during Britain’s nicest summer for years.
The Buddhist Big Sister crinkled her nose – this is not her scene.
With an affected middle class flourish, she loudly announced: “I’m going back to the cottage…to make Gazpacho and do my meditation!”
Later, I took both kids back for the “Family Entertainment Nite”.
It was held in a dark cabaret lounge where a breathless rep was loudly berating the drink-deadened audience.
“YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO CLAP LOUDER THAN THAT LADIES N GENTS!”
Not when we’re ‘lolling on Facebook’ seemed to be the unspoken response.
A production crew then arrived to shoot a video for the park’s website.
Feral kids – desperate for adult attention – surrounded them like Howler Monkeys attacking a car at a Safari Park.
Staff were forced to appeal over the mic for the dance-floor to be evacuated but only a few parents looked up from their phones.
It was only when they threatened to shut the bar that troops of male silverbacks emerged to retrieve their young – enticing them with crisps and Laptops.
It seems there’s no place in the video for the park’s actual clientele – tubby boys with glasses and braided-hair girls with bad teeth.
Not when our model British family is waiting!
Chiselled “Mum and Dad” look too young and carefree to be actual parents.
“Grandad” was a smooth Blake Carrington who works for the same agency.
The star of the video – a little girl – had two real parents watching.
On the sidelines, they both adopted manic smiles and poses which she then repeated for the camera.
The next day, I wrote a postcard to the Mother Superior.
It read: “SOS”.
(CONTINUES NEXT WEEK)
First published in The Westmorland Gazette – 29/08/2013
Tags: Art Cumbria, artists, Audible Forces Brockhole, Brockhole Visitor Centre, cumbrian art, Ellis Butcher blog, ellis in wonderland blog, EllisInWonderland, Lake District, Lake District blog, Lakes Alive, www.ellis-in-wonderland.com
WE’VE got a problem with the DVD remote and I’m not sure it can be resolved.
It’s been faulty for six months, but like I said to the Mother Superior: “We’re not buying another.”
The kids can rough it in 2013 – life’s tough in da Hood.
All the other buttons work except ‘Play’ – which is just abbbbb-sooooo-lutely spiffing.
We can live without Subtitles or Screen Enlarge, but not Play.
I could sit down there, next to the DVD, waiting for all the adverts to pass and then just press the Play button on the box when the main film menu comes on.
But this is war. If I do that the remote has ‘won’. More minutes of my life sacrificed to machines.
Sometimes the remote works, sometimes it doesn’t – it’s sneaky see. It depends what angle you use to attack it.
The Praying Mantis seems to work. That and The Crane technique like at the end of Karate Kid.
The Mother Superior prefers surprise.
Creeping up on the box with the remote in her hand and her back low – a stabbing, goring action, almost like invisible fencing.
On occasions, I’ve caught sight of myself in the mirror.
I’ve noticed my ‘PlayStation tongue’ has popped out. That’s the one that appears sometimes when I’m over concentrating.
Before you start pitching in with advice, gained by years of experience no doubt, yessss we’ve checked the batteries and noooo we can’t get the back off.
Despite my impressive 99-piece set in the shed, the remote has been secured using the World’s Smallest Screwdriver.
Screwdriver 100 perhaps? They do it just to mess with your mind.
Time was you could have bobbed out to Radio Rentals for a new remote where a local man would disappear in the back and come back out with one in a box.
“Sorry, we don’t actually hold stock here. Our regional sub-supplier may do but I’m not sure. All you need to do Mr Butcher is contact our customer service people . . . in Bangalore . . . by Facebook.”
First published in The Westmorland Gazette: 18/7/2013
Tags: 2013, Broken DVD remote, Cumbria, DVD remote broken, Ellis Butcher blog, Lake District, Lake District blog, Problems with the DVD remote, The Westmorland Gazette, the world's smallest screwdriver
OF the 999 TV channels now lazer-beamed into Chateau Boucher, I can live without all of them except one…
ITV4 regularly delves into the sock drawer to show epic football games from the early Eighties, called The Big Match Revisited.
I’d forgotten how top flight football used to be.
Wiry men in short shorts on rutted cow fields with refs in their seventies. Jumpers for goalposts, just about.
There were no triple somersaults after hitting the net – scorers just shook hands.
At the final whistle, urchins flooded on to the pitch from crumbling wooden terraces to pat the backs of their heroes.
Not a luminous boot, pair of gloves, shin pad or Alice band in sight.
Not a single snarling narcissist sliding on his knees towards a camera to celebrate his God-bestowed brilliance.
Humility is something today’s Hollyoaks players with their Holly Willoughby girlfriends and a garage-full of Hollywood motors could do with learning.
Because despite all the hype, most games today fail to live with the drama of that era.
The Lowryesque 55,000 fans jammed in at Old Trafford for an FA Cup tie against Everton in 1983 made ten times the noise 75,000 do today.
Why? Because 30 years ago football was still a game not a business. Every team had a win-or-die mentality.
The attitude was ‘attack attack attack’ and if they lost, well, at least they tried.
Even the commentators knew their place. Dubious decisions were mentioned once then forgotten.
There’s no doubt that in terms of athleticism, today’s pasta-eating, Lucozade-guzzling pros would outpower yesteryear’s whippersnappers.
But what modern players gained in technical and tactical know how – they lost in passion and excitement.
Managers fretful of relegation ironed out the mistakes which used to make the game so entertaining.
In its place, this highly tactical, strategic chess game set in, where well-drilled teams are far more boringly cautious, often sitting back to save energy for the next moneyspinner.
It’s why following England now is such a yawn – they’re too scared to lose so won’t go all out to win.
THOUSANDS SAW QUEEN THREE TIMES
AS befitted Kendal’s greatest occasion in the lifetime of the present generation, the town was more profusely decorated than ever before, and a feature of the colourful scene was the beauty added by the use of natural flowers.
The scene was well set and, after two days of glorious weather, the deluge which greeted the great day on Saturday m0rning left the streets of the town virtually deserted until 11.30am.
Small crowds had assembled. A night duty policeman reported that two girls had taken up their places at 2am while at 6am ‘the gathering’ had grown to six.
The town hall did not attract any all night enthusiasts, but there was a gathering of 5o people taking up positions of advantage by 9.30am.
It was not until the rain finished at about 11.30am that the streets became really ‘alive’ and by this time the main roads had been closed.
One motor coach from Accrington on a day tour of the Lakes arrived in the centre of town and the party told the policeman they had booked lunch in Kendal at 12:30.
When told they would not be able to leave the town until the roads were open again until 3pm, their first reaction of dismay soon changed and they decided to stay and see the royal visitors before continuing their tour on a restricted scale.
There was no crowding at any point, due to the fact that there must have been a thousand people in house and shop windows, while lorries parked at the ends of yards were used as grandstands.
Then came the great moment when the Royal car passed through the triumphal arch on Windermere Road and the cheering and waving rippled along the route down into town and swelled to a pitch of local enthusiasm as the crowds increased all the way to the town hall.
The thousands of people who chose their vantage points between the County Hall and Town Hall were more fortunate than those outside this area, as they saw the Queen and the Duke three times, thought many of these moved away during the luncheon interval and the streets had their quota of cheering people all the way to the southern boundary of Milnthorpe Road.
First published in The Westmorland Gazette – 18th August 1956
Tags: 2013, Ellis Butcher blog, Lake District, Lake District blog, Lake District history, Lake District pics, Queen visit 2013, Queen visits 1956, Queen visits Kendal, Queen visits Kendal 1956, Royal visit 2013, South Lakeland, The Westmorland Gazette
So, this is what summer looks like. It’s been so long I didn’t recognise it. What’s it been now?
Five years? Six?
The grass has grown high in the fields out the back of the house and the inside of the car like a blast furnace.
Summer is back. Simmering offices, cold baths, open windows, dark rooms and twisting, sleepless nights.
And days of warnings – heat-stroke, cold waters, dogs cooked in cars, chicken not done properly.
Young men scaring old ones by jumping from Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale against all sane advice and painful near history.
I tombstoned in younger days. But it’s massively to my credit I think, that I didn’t know what a bylaw was back then, let alone stop to consider one as my toes gripped the parapet.
What are bylaws really? Historic and easily-broken leg irons drawn up by bookish, law slaves in offices they’ve always considered too small?
A futile attempt to place power and control in places where its representatives are rarely present?
The rules young people were designed to disregard?
We could double bolt the doors on the young men of today. Lock them in dark bedrooms with the internet and Call Of Duty 3? Don’t let them out until they’re pale and scared of their own hair.
This happens too much already – it’s called winter.
But what is life if you don’t thumb your nose at death sometimes? What is youth if it’s not acting immortal?
The answer to both is maturity. The young don’t have any, that’s the way it works.
But there’s youthful exuberance, living for the moment and plain stupidity.
With a warning tonight that water levels in the River Lune have dramatically fallen - tombstoning in these conditions looks positively suicidal – even to a risk-taker.
How can you jump – fully in the knowledge that a week later your weeping mother could be wheeling you through the exit doors of Westmorland General – at best?
How can you jump, knowing your Dad may have to carry your broken body to the car - musing that your disintegrated spinal chord is something of a ‘result’ – all things being considered.
If you don’t end up killing yourself, you could metaphorically kill the people closest to you.
And the Devil will indeed be very pleased.