Monday, 5 December 2016

 



THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. OR IS IT?




I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Mainly because of a Twitter account by a little girl called Bana Alebed and also a Twitter account by The White Helmets.

In the show Star Trek - The Next Generation, Patrick Stewart quotes this: "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to THE TRUTH. Whether it be Scientific truth, historical truth or personal truth".

This rule also applies to journalism. Our first duty is also to the truth.

Sadly the truth can get lost in waves of lies, propaganda, and - forgive me as I hate this expression - "fake news"

Which is where our little friend Bana comes in. As soon as she started tweeting, people - and yes, even I'm guilty - were so moved by her tales of life as a seven year old in war torn Aleppo, Syria, that virtually overnight she gained thousands of followers!

Of course as soon as she did, the trolls and conspiracy theorists had to stick their noses in. They sent tweets to her followers (including me) denying she exists, saying it was part of the White Helmet's propaganda machine, because people have been sceptical about their agenda too.

The questions that were asked about her were:

Where does she get her internet from?

Why were her and her brothers wearing spotless and (possibly new) clothes, in a place full of rubble, dust etc? And most seven year olds get dirty just playing outside.

Why as a seven year old can she write excellent English in her tweets, but in a video can't string two words together?

And so on....!

These questions are valid, but I think what is more important is what she is doing for Syria. She is highlighting the horrific conditions and fear of the most vulnerable and innocent across her country. No-one wants to think of a child suffering. So what she says resonates with us. We wouldn't be human beings if it didn't.

Then we have The White Helmets. The bravest people in the world who enter places most of us wouldn't have the courage to go, and if we did, we wouldn't last long. These men have rescued hundreds of people from destroyed buildings and again many have been children. There was Omar - the little guy in the ambulance, an image that is burned into the memories of many people. Then there was the little toddler who was rescued, that made us understand the heroism of these people. Some of the images they've given us have reduced us to tears.

People need to just for once take things at face value and accept that The White Helmets are The White Helmets and Bana is just little Bana.  The little seven year old, who is living a life that none of us would like to be living, thank you very much. We (the world in general) need to stop seeing conspiracies where there are none.

I personally believe Bana is real and I believe The White Helmets are not trying to spread propaganda, but just doing their job as rescuers for some very frightened and desperate people.

I for one will continue to support and communicate with this frightened little girl, if it helps her life be a tiny bit better and I have nothing but praise for The White Helmets.

One of the worst things about this is that because journalists are reporting this stuff, they too are being labelled as propagandists and liars.  We are nothing of the kind. We are telling the truth as we see it. I'm not saying that there aren't some unscrupulous people out there who have an agenda, but they are few and far between and should not even call themselves journalists.

Whether the stuff about Bana or The White Helmets is true, is something only you can decide.
As they say on the X Files, "The truth is out there".

The truth. All we journalists can do is tell what we believe to be the truth. It's the truth as far as we understand it. Whether you believe us is up to your discretion.  

"All we can do is keep asking questions and that is the best we can do" ~ Lyse Doucet BBC.


Saturday, 12 November 2016







MY SYMPATHY FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE US



On 8 November, the United States made their choice as to who would be the 45th president of the United States.

Unfortunately their choice was Donald J. Trump. A man who knows a lot about business, but knows absolutely nothing about diplomacy, defence, politics, or anything else he needs to make him a successful President of the United States. It's a completely different animal and he has no idea how to tame it. His brash talking may have got him into the White House, but it will need a lot more than a big mouth to keep him there. 

Many Americans are baffled as to why everyone else voted for this man and so am I. Putting aside that (as here in the UK) the voting system is completely flawed, he has shown himself in a very bad light and has alienated practically everyone he comes in contact with. He has insulted woman, ethnic minorities, the disabled, other leaders, and even us poor journalists have been victims of his wrath. He is a misogynistic, racist bigot. And, as a pacifist with more compassion than is sometimes good for me, he and his behaviour are an anathema to myself and everything I stand for. Just to recap, here are some of the stupid things he has allegedly done:

Misogynism:

Commented on what the future size of his one year-old daughter's breasts would be. How utterly disgusting! 

Called a lawyer disgusting because she wanted a break to breast-pump milk for her kid. I am guessing he is one of those men who thinks breast-feeding on public transport should be a no-no, too.

Said women should be punished for having abortions.

Racism:

Saying we should stop all Muslims going into the United States. Saying the families of terrorists should be executed, said mosques should be shut down.

Says the murder at the pulse night club proved him right about Islamic terrorism.

Said he would build a wall along the US-Mexican border, and make the Mexican government pay for it. He also threatened to leave NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) if they refused to do so.

Said President Obama may be Muslim - as if it even mattered. As long as he is a US Citizen - which he is - his religious believes are irrelevant to him being POTUS.

Discrimination:

Made spiteful gestures in regard to a disabled reporter

Said veterans who suffer from PTSD aren’t “strong and can’t handle it"

Had supporters wearing T-shirts saying, "Journalist. Rope. Tree - some assembly required".

And on and on the list goes!

This guy is one of the most hateful people there is and by voting for him, America has basically said that all these disgusting traits are acceptable despite it being the 21st century. Also, the guy has a very short fuse. Any world leader could say just one annoying thing and he could give the order to press the nuclear button. Is this really the man America needs as their Commander-In-Chief?

He is dangerous. He is unpredictable. He is frightening. He has a huge arsenal at his disposal and I believe he is manic enough to use it for the wrong reasons just because a world leader (or possibly one of their keys) said something that irritated him.     

I do not trust this man and I do not trust his supporters. Since he was elected there has been a rise in racist abuse against many minorities. A lot of people are comparing this to the Brexit when the same thing happened. People feel they now have carte blanche to harass others with whom they disagree because there leader feels the same way. Wrong, they do not and should not be doing this.

A lot of white supremacist groups are cheering the election of Trump, which only cements the view that he should not be holding the most powerful office in America and one of the most powerful positions in the world. He is no more fit to be President of the United States than the Kim's are to be in charge of North Korea.

The majority of Americans voted for Hilary. Unfortunately, the college votes screwed it up and made a mockery of the way people feel in the US and around the world.

Ethnic minorities in America (especially the Mexicans) are now absolutely terrified. And no-one should have to live in fear like that.

By spreading and condoning hate and bigotry he is not making America great again. Far from it. He is making the United States a joke.

I will never accept him as the President. In all good conscience I cannot. And I will not. My husband said to me, "Respect the position if not the man". I do respect the position, but not while Donald J. Trump is in it.

To everyone in the United States, you have my sincerest condolences for the next four years. I wish you the best of luck. You'll need it.










Monday, 31 October 2016







THE (NOT SO) OLD MAN AND THE SEAGULL


There is an old adage in television. NEVER work with children or animals. However,  an incident this week proved that sometimes you can work with them. It also proved something I've always believed: Compassion in journalism is not a crime.

It all started on Friday night, when a herring gull appeared on the steps of 200 Grays Inn Road. Like the gull, I've sat there many times. A lot of people would have probably just walked right past, letting the bird do it's own thing, Or more selfish people may have said that seagulls, pigeons etc are vermin and not even cared.

But one person did care.  Alastair Stewart. As most Twitter users will know, he is no stranger to animals, he grew up with horses and encouraged his family to love them too. He has horses, donkeys, a dog, cats, chickens. he near enough owns a zoo! So even though what happened is not surprising, it still deserves praise.

This particular night, he left ITN, assuming he was just going to have a quick cigarette break and then get back to work. Something he has probably done a thousand times, without a second thought other than possibly "I really should give up smoking".

However, this time was completely different. There on the steps was the gull, sat completely still, very quiet and not exactly looking happy.  Some of Alastair's colleagues were also worried.

They took the trouble to be concerned for the bird, call the RSPCA, and finally get the bird to a place where it could be properly looked after.

As an animal lover myself, I have nothing but praise for Alastair and his colleagues. Alastair's attitude towards another living creature was exemplary and it says a lot about the kind of person he is. Any animal that in future ends up living with the Stewarts' couldn't have better owners. I don't know what happened to the gull, but I do know that - thanks to Alastair - it is a little happier at least.

And that's the amazing thing. In journalism you can be confronted by the most dangerous situations or the most beautiful things, and you never know what is around the corner. Journalism isn't always about bad news, sometimes events can have a good ending as this one did.

Martyn Lewis - a veritable advocate of good news - would be very pleased!









Friday, 5 August 2016





The RUIN IN RIO

On the 6 August, the 31st Olympiad begins in Rio De Janiero.  The question I and many other people are asking themselves is "Why?"

The games had problems right from the start. 

Let's begin with the obvious - Rio itself. The place is a mess. It has a beach that is full of sewage. And there is loads of litter. It's horrible. The bay was full of sewage in 2014 and it is still full of it, and there have been claims from people that dead bodies have been floating in the sea. Is that the kind of place anyone, especially a top-class athlete wants to be rowing or sailing a boat??

Then there are the evictions. And no I'm not kidding. A lot of people where literally kicked out of their homes so that the Rio could build Olympic venues and a village.  This is completely wrong. And the fact that new houses have been built for the evicted is really not the point!

Which leads to the homeless people and the favelas (slum district). The people who live on the hills are very poor and there are drug gangs all over the place. Violence and shootings are common. And the police are having a hard time controlling it all.  

Also people rioted when they heard Rio had been given the games, because they were upset at the cost of it.

That's all. Right? Wrong! Then there are the muggings of athletes. This includes athletes from China, Australia, and Spain. 

As if the athletes getting robbed wasn't enough, so have journalists! A German team had their equipment truck hijacked, and several other journalists have been pick-pocketed while just strolling along the  beach.

A Russian diplomat allegedly had to shoot a mugger, oh and the police, who are clearly not doing a good job anyway, have decided to go on strike for the duration of the games. 

Then we have the buildings themselves, many athletes have said that the buildings at the village are unsafe (which reminds me of the wobbly staircase at the World Cup) and are not fit to live in. .

The list goes on and on....!  

This is not the face you really want to be showing to the world is it? Well, don't worry. You won't get to see that face anyway. You can guarantee the media will show you all the lovely beaches (if there are any), the beautiful blue sea (no bodies or litter here folks), and smiling happy athletes saying how proud they are to be in Rio (despite being mugged).

But it's a far cry from the truth I'm afraid. Brazil has major economic problems and a lot of crime. 

Even though it wasn't prepared to host them and now two years later - it still isn't, Rio beat Chicago, USA; Madrid, Spain and Tokyo, Japan to win these games. And they are screwing it up royally.  

To complete this catalogue of nonsense and as s a way of saying, "Yes, we're making a complete balls-up of this", the opening ceremony was a complete disaster. It was a failure to behold. And cemented that they are not ready for this and never have been. 

What the International Olympic Commitee were thinking when they awarded Brazil the games is anyone's guess. I'm wondering if they were even of sound mind at the time.

I will not be watching #Rio2016, as I know it's going to be a complete farce. 

And to the International Olympic Committee, you should be ashamed of yourselves for allowing Rio to hold the damn thing in the first place.

Thursday, 21 July 2016



ANALYSING ASSAD


On Wednesday 13 July, my favourite journalist, Bill Neely finally achieved one of the things he had desired most - an interview with President Bashar Al-Assad. After visiting Syria at least ten times, requesting each time and being refused, he finally got his wish. After talking many times to Assad's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisel Mekdad, he finally got a chance to question the man at the top. This is what I thought of both the questions from Bill and the answers from Assad. And remember: I am just a viewer with an opinion. So here goes. 

An interview with a world leader can go either exceptionally well or very very badly. For instance, had Bill ever asked some of the questions he asked here to someone like, say for example, Kim Jong-Un, I suspect he would have ended up in the gulag or worse, probably executed.

This interview was neither good nor bad. It was somewhere in the middle. Or, to use an old saying, "It fell between two Chippendale stools".

The first mistake was NBC calling this an exclusive. Exclusive usually means no-one has ever done this before. Except plenty of people had. Including the BBC's brilliant reporter Jeremy Bowen, for which he won the RTS award.

 It was pretty clear from the start that Assad had praise for Russia and Vladimir Putin. It was also equally clear that he had contempt for The United States, no matter who was in charge. But lets elaborate. 

Bill asked him how long it would take to win the war and as usual, like Faisel Mekdad before him, he said it would only take a few months, which is clearly nonsense.. Bill challenged him on that very fact as it was clearly a ridiculous statement.

He claims that when he asked President Putin for help in defeating the "terrorists", the Russian leader didn't ask anything of him in return. Which sounds fantastic, but also sounds completely implausible. Bill then said, "So, you owe President Putin...a lot?" Assad's answer was that he didn't owe him (Putin) anything, because other countries have helped in their own way. too. And the deal was of mutual values and in the interests of the Russian people. Which is odd because at one point even Putin allegedly told Assad it was time he should step down.  Yep, even his closest ally was getting fed up with him! And the only reason Putin even cares about Assad is the access it gives the Russians to their warm water ports. Not that Assad is ever likely to admit that. 

Assad also said that other countries should basically butt out. He said Syrian issues should be decided by the Syrians, and if the Syrians "want me to go, then I will go now, today". And he didn't approve of American airstrikes, saying they were illegal and counter-productive. He also said the Americans didn't have any good intentions towards Syria and their credibility was at an all-time low in the world. OUCH! He said he didn't care what the Americans want, only what the Syrians want.  

Of course talking of the Americans, led Bill to ask about Donald Trump and the US Election. This I am afraid to say is where Bill fell down, not in a major way, but he really over-played the election thing. He asked Assad about Obama leaving and about Trump possibly (God help us!) coming in. President Assad made it clear up-front that he wasn't interested, "It means nothing to us!", and yet Bill kept pushing even though Assad had made his view very clear. Bill then tried the same thing with Hilary and still got the same answer. He asked Assad if he intended warning the United States if a missile was going to hit them. His answer was, "In principle", which I think really means no. The one thing Assad did say in the Trump conversation was. "Richness is diversity" and that Trump shouldn't be spouting such racist rhetoric. That is one thing Assad and I agree on.  Of course, he also asked Assad what he hoped the relationship would be with the future President, which to me was irrelevant because there isn't a new President, yet. 

Now, Bill confronted him on some of the terrible things that had happened in his country. Assad basically denied it, even though Bill said he had seen some of it himself. Bill pressed him about the use of sieges and indiscriminate killing of civilians. Assad said that no-one had any proof, even though it had been witnessed by organisations like the U.N, the Red Cross, the UNHCR and of course Bill himself. Speaking of journalists, this is the point in the interview where I finally wanted to scream, and Bill began to lose his composure too. This is why:

Bill talked to him about the fact that the family of American Reporter Marie Colvin, who was a great friend of Bill and someone I admired too, were filing a lawsuit against the Syrian Government for her death, claiming that she and her friends in the media centre house were being deliberately targeted. It was something her best friend Paul Conroy , a photo-journalist for The Times has always believed and still does. Bill's question was straight to the point: Did your forces target Marie Colvin and her colleagues with the intention of killing her [and presumably her colleagues]? 

Assad said that his forces didn't even know of Marie Colvin's existence. What?? He followed this up with. "She came illegally to Syria and (I quote) "worked with" the terrorists. And then the bit that really made me want to scream abuse at my laptop: "Because she came illegally, she was responsible for everything that befell her!" He was kidding, right? No, he wasn't. He dropped himself in it though, by saying that lots of journalists came to Syria illegally and they didn't die, so why would they target this person? Which is exactly the point Bill was trying to get across. Why did he target Marie? I couldn't believe it! His forces effectively murder her and Remi Ochlick and all he says is he didn't know she was there, or even acknowledges her existence. As a fellow journalist and someone who admired Marie a lot, I really felt angry that not only could he not take responsibility for the death of his own people, but won't take responsibility for slaughtering journalists either.

Bill's interviewing style changed after that. He didn't hold back. He said Assad - through his words - gave the impression that "he feels he bears no responsibility to the things done - in HIS name - to the Syrian people". He basically kept saying the equivalent of, "Not my fault" and "This is war, people die". Bill asked if he'd seen pictures of children in rebel held areas, only to basically get back that there is no proof they were even in those areas. Assad had casually shrugged off the fact that an estimated 400,000 people had died in his country.  Bill's outburst of, "See! There you go again!" every time Assad denied something, clearly showed that Bill was very wound up. This is not a criticism, though, because by this time, I was just as wound up.

Bill said, "You know what the first draft of history is saying: that you are a brutal dictator with blood on your hands. How do you think people will remember you?"

Assad said, "I hope people with remember me as a Patriot who tried to save his country"

Well, he is actually both.  Yes it is possible to be both. However he also said, "What's most important is how the Syrians see me!"

Basically, President Bashar Assad is a man who is confident of his power and that he is staying exactly where he is.  He is equally sure that he is not responsible for anything, only that what he does is for the good of his country. He came across as a very intelligent, and very charming man. He batted Bill's questions very well, but equally Bill was very good at pushing back, determined to try and get Assad to take responsibility for what are believed by many to be war crimes.

All in all this interview was interesting and gave an insight into how Assad feels about his Presidency, his staying power and about the war itself. And Bill Neely did an excellent job.

NBC's Bill Neely and President Assad




Friday, 8 July 2016



NERDY AND PROUD OF IT


It has been a long standing pastime no matter where you are in the world to make fun of people who are lovers of sci-fi shows. We are the strange, barmy people. We are that little group of people who it is fine to treat with contempt and derision. I used to be one of those people who felt that way. If anyone said they were a sci-fi fan especially a Trekker (fan of Star Trek if you were wondering), I avoided them like they had the plague. Mainly because there are people who get way to involved in their hobby to the exclusion of all else. I dated such a man (not a sci fi fan, something else) and it was the most miserable four years of my life. However, there can be an equal balance between your hobby and your life. Most fans of sci-fi are those people and not the obsessive fans others believe them to be. I watch science fiction, but only to relax on an evening, not because I'm obsessed with it. For the most part I don't give it a second thought.  

My opinion of sci-fi changed when I turned on the TV one Tuesday night and Peter Davison, who I had always liked, was on wearing the weirdest outfit I had ever seen, until Colin Baker came along, that is. 
I thought this looked weird, until....

.....I saw this!


When I then saw Maurice Colbourne from Howard's Way I was even more confused. Then I saw something that is familiar to even the most reluctant TV watcher. A dalek. I was watching a Doctor Who story called Resurrection of the Daleks. And when I got to the cliff-hanger, I really wanted to know what happened next. Sadly, the character of Tegan left in this story, before I even got to know who she was. And as Turlough left in Planet of Fire which followed, I didn't get to know him either. So, my first companion was actually an American botany student called Peri Brown. 

That began my love of Doctor Who, and eventually was followed by Star Trek's various incarnations, Red Dwarf, and thanks to Don, a love of Andromeda, which is partly why my Twitter name is Trance Dance Gemini. 

Of course, 'nerds'(forgive me) are not just sci-fi fans. We love anime and manga, gaming, and we love to have our head in a book. People say nerds are weird for going to conventions, sometimes in a costume. Why? Why is that any different to going to a football or soccer game on a weekend? Is the stadium not your convention, and your team scarf or sweater your costume? Are you not cheering on your heroes of sport as we are cheering our heroes of well, nerdiness? Yes. There is no difference. So to vilify a nerd is not only inaccurate, it's stupid. 

Yes, there are some people who take their fandom slightly too far. The young woman who thought turning up to jury service in a Starfleet uniform to be perfectly acceptable is one example. But most of us are just fun loving who like to watch our manga and our sci-fi. We love it and we are unapologetic about it.  

Here a few things I love:

Doctor Who:

Favourite Doctor: Peter Davison/ Colin Baker
Favourite stories:  Caves of Androzani (Davison) Mark of the Rani (Baker)
Favourite quotes : He sees the threads that bind the universe together and he mends them when they break", "To some, small beautiful events is what life is all about".
  
Andromeda         

Favourite Story : The Pearls That Were His Eyes, and the teaser of The Ties That Bind.
Favourite Quote : To hell with the odds. All that matters in life is that we try (from The Things We Cannot Change)

Manga

Favourite Manga: Battle Royal, Case Closed, The Prince of Tennis, Kabuto, One Piece.
Favourite Anime:  Case Closed The Prince of Tennis, Full Moon 
Weirdest Anime :   Kanazuki no Miko (Priestess of the Godless Month)

Gaming

Favourite console: 3DS
Favourite games: Anything featuring Super Mario/Luigi, PilotWings Resort, and Go Vacation (love the horse riding and the skateboarding!)


I'll leave you with a tune for anyone who like me is a nerd and proud of it!





HELLO, HELLO!! I RECOGNISE YOU!! PART II


Hello, Bill! 

I thought it was time I updated my "Hello, hello, I recognise you" blog!

As you know, I have admired your journalism for years, and I'm glad I can finally (bit late possibly) pursue my own career in broadcast journalism. 

The first time I saw you was that happy day in 1993, when you were still a presenter at ITN, having only just started your career there a few years earlier. Since then I have wanted to follow you into journalism but circumstances, which are too in depth to go into here, prevented me from doing so. Now I have an opportunity and am jumping on it. I've got a shot. I'm taking it!

Remember if it wasn't for you I would never have realised what I was capable of. You have shown me I have a talent for writing, for thinking for myself, for having opinions, for being able to see beyond myself and see the world around me. You have made me see that the world can sometimes be a nasty place, but we have to shine a light. We have to show people this, so no-one is forgotten. You have also made me realise I'm braver than I knew. My parents shielded me even as an adult from things they believed could upset me. But I have found that I can face those things without a problem. Yes, things upset me, but it has to do with compassion, not fear. There have been some horrific images in some of your reports and they have often made me angry, but I faced them and tried to understand why people sometimes behave in ways that sometimes affect our sensibilities so strongly. 

I also realised I had a talent for running. Now I can run a 5K with the best of them. I an not very fast, but the point is, I can do it.  

Having you as my hero has only been a good thing. I know I have been a pain in the arse at times, but it's only because I admire you so much. 

Through all of it, you have been kind, patient, understanding, and you have always answered any questions I have. For that, I am more grateful than you will ever know. 

You have given me good advice, been one hell of a teacher, and a wonderful mentor and supported me in my dream to be like you (well, maybe not exactly. No-one could be 'exactly' like you. You're too damn good!!).

Of course, my ultimate dream is to work for you, whether it be at NBC or ITN. And I will continue to follow your amazing advice, and do whatever it takes to get there. Of course, I may end up being completely useless at journalism, but as someone once said, "To hell with the odds. All that matters in life is that we try".  I just want to discover this for myself. Hopefully, with your continuing support and friendship, I will. 

It has been an honour to have you as a hero, but even more to have you as a friend. I know how lucky I am to have you in my life and I don't take it for granted for a second. You are one of the sweetest, funniest, and most compassionate people I know. And it has been fun to spend time talking to you about news, CRY, your running, your family, including Max (yes, you've even talked about Max) and various other odd subjects that pop up.    

I want to thank you for being my hero, my inspiration and my friend. I can't wait to follow in your footsteps, and when I do get to finally work with you at some point, it will be an absolute privilege. 

Thank you for everything! And don't forget to be awesome.












Saturday, 2 July 2016



     MY FIRST REAL EXPERIENCE OF JOURNALISM 


I've been asked by a friend to talk about how the #Brexit was covered here in the UK by the media. As I am more interested in broadcast journalism, I am unqualified to talk about how the press covered it (badly by all accounts).  However, here is my experience from Friday the 24th June 2016, the day we voted to leave the EU and how it was covered by broadcast journalism.

Like everyone else I sat up all night on Thursday night/Friday morning, watching from 10pm, as ITV News's former political editor Tom Bradby put his other talent into play - presenting - to pull an all nighter to tell us results of the EU referendum as they came in. He finally went off the air around 5am having declared the result was a Brexit as the remaining results wouldn't change this outcome, so there was no point going on about it. I stayed until the bitter end. I was shocked at the result, and never believed it could happen. I should not have stayed up as I was travelling that day but it was irresistible. The whole night, guest politicians, pundits, analysts, economists, came in and out of the studio giving their take on this whole thing. Alastair Stewart who is just as amazing, came on at 9am but this was sadly where I had to discipline myself and get ready to travel. One thing I had learned was that the broadcast media where piling into Westminster Gardens, so I headed to London, dumped my stuff and went to join them, no settling in, no shower, nothing. Just straight into my room, dump my stuff, grab my camera/camcorder and out again. Which is probably why I look a bit untidy on my vlog.

First I had to find where the media where. It took all of five minutes. There, right opposite Parliament in the garden of Parliament Square were a load of broadcast tents, for both TV and radio.  Everyone was allowed on there as long as they didn't interfere with the media, they could sit and watch, even picnic, as long they liked. To stand on the lawn with some of the most amazing broadcasters and people I've admired for years was pretty awesome I have to say. It was a privilege. But like those wonderful people I had a job to do. So I tried to forget who was around me and got on with it.

We all did basically the same thing. Stood on something that made us slightly taller, so we could have the Westminster clock in the background: me on the wall, the professionals on one or even two equipment boxes. A TV in front so you could take cues from London or New York studios, and lights. Very bright lights. That's why my vlog has a green line down it, my camera reflected them.

Keir Simmons and his handy equipment box. 


Some broadcasters actually interviewed politicians right there on the lawn, but not while I was there, and lots of them filmed the protesters who, thankfully, were happy to stay the other side of the fence. Until later in the week that is, when it became completely insane and even a little dangerous.

Some broadcasters had their broadcast tents on the ground as a marquee-type set up while others had their makeshift studio on a scaffolding balcony:

ITN on the balcony


Some of the other professionals and yours truly, thought "sod that" and just found whatever space we could on the grass. The atmosphere was wonderful. It was so good that even my husband Don was getting into the spirit of it, even though he doesn't enjoy journalism the same way I do.

The one thing that is important to note is that journalists have loads of kit! It's absolutely everywhere! Camera, track, scaffolding, tripods, lights, kit boxes, you name it. Oh, and the one other essential piece of kit. The umbrella, though this is used more in regard to lighting than because of the weather:

The trusty filming umbrella

There were people coming and going the whole time: journalists, pundits, politicians, cameramen, protesters, onlookers. It was like everyone had come out to Westminster to share the amazing and weird event of Britain telling the EU, "Sorry, I've decided I don't want to be your friend anymore. Goodbye and good riddance".

So basically covering a story from a particular location (with the exception of war zone obviously) tends to involve sitting around waiting a lot especially if you are on the technical side. And basically a kind of impromptu camp-out. But it is a lot of fun, and very, very exciting. And I hope one day to be among the professionals doing this. Can't wait.

















Thursday, 23 June 2016






DO I STAY OR DO I GO?


It seems that this week is all about Europe. We have the Euro2016 soccer tournament and here in the UK we have the EU referendum or EURef.

This may be be the most important issue the UK has EVER voted on. The implications of the decision to be made are many and far reaching. Not just affecting us, but many people across Europe. One of the questions being, if we leave, will the rest of the EU follow suit so that it eventually falls apart. Of course there are arguments for both remaining and leaving.

The UK joined the forerunner to the EU in 1975, It was known then as the common market. It was supposed to be many nations coming together in mutual trade agreements and economic deals advantageous to everyone. Or that was how it began; it certainly didn't stay that way. The EU of today bears absolutely no resemblance to the common market of years ago, even though trading with Europe still goes on.

So first we have the OUT camp. 

Many "out-ers" say we are paying too much to Europe. I agree, we certainly are paying our dues. But I'm baffled as to where this number of £350m has come from that is constantly banded about. After things like rebates etc, this is not even close to the correct amount. People are saying that we are basically funding the EU gravy train.

Then there is the perfectly legitimate argument from both sides that this is the only time we will have the opportunity to decide our fate so we should take advantage of it. And if we don't leave now, we will never get another crack at it. No argument from me.

There is also the fact the everyone is getting fed up of Brussels dictating our action; that we can't make informed choices about our country without the EU sticking it's nose in. 

Then there is the old chestnut - here we go...! - of immigration. Immigration is a valid concern. I agree. Unfortunately the reasons surrounding these concerns are not constructive. All I hear is, "We don't want all these Muslims coming in" and, "There'll be more Muslims, so more terrorism". This is clearly nonsense. Most terrorists don't preach Islam and all decent Muslims condemn terrorism outright. 

And the propaganda surrounding it has been laughable. Take for example, UKIP's ridiculous poster. The now familiar one where you have the queue of refugees, with one solitary white person in the bottom right-hand corner, and the stupid slogan, "Breaking Point". Purlease!! These refugees are actually in Slovenia. Nowhere near the UK.  Yes, UKIP and many other out people prefer to use propaganda than actually tell the truth. 

"Wait!", I hear you cry, "Does that mean Neely Fan is an "in" person? Well, not necessarily. I'm just trying to see both sides.

The IN crowd aren't making a good name for themselves either. Their behaviour on the ITV News EURef debate was utterly appalling! So bad that I had to switch of. Not the behaviour of a good journalist, I agree, as we are obliged to know what's going on. But they were driving me bonkers.

My source of my consternation from the "in" bunch (and yes, unfortunately, I am including the lovely Nicola Sturgeon in this), was their constant badgering and insulting  of Boris Johnson. Instead of telling us why we should stay in, they were constantly complaining about the "out" bunch, as opposed to their policies and giving Boris a really hard time. This was't a sensible debate it was a slanging match and a complete farce. All I can say is that Julie Etchingham must have the patience of a saint. Her performance, unlike everyone else's, was exemplary.  

So why are the "IN" side, well....IN?

There are good arguments here, too. Starting with the lame but also perfectly justifiable, "We're all freaked out, so are happy with the status quo, thank you". Fair enough.

Then there is the reason the common market exists in the first place: trade, industry and partnerships. 

Then we have our friends across the sea in the tortured province. I don't want to turn this into a debate about Northern Ireland, but having a background there and in the Republic, I think it only fair to recognise their concerns, so here goes. 

One of the main concerns was from farmers in Northern Ireland They actually get a lot of subsides from the EU (no I never knew that either). So, you can see why they may have a problem with an exit. 

My friend is so worried about the future of Northern Ireland if  the UK leaves the EU, she has said she will emigrate if we do. Now, there is is someone who REALLY is worried.

Then there are the Troubles. Ah, the Troubles....! There is peace (of a sort) in the province now and there has been for two decades, To see it destroyed, to me, is unthinkable. 

Now you are asking what the Troubles has to do with the Brexit, right?  Good question.

When the Belfast agreement was ratified, it was on the premise of both the North and South being in the EU. For the last twenty-odd years, citizens of both countries have been able to move freely between the two in both directions. No border checks, no An Garda Siochana, no PSNI, no military. Nothing.  Just drive across. Like going from England to Wales.

However, if Northern Ireland left the EU with the UK, there is a possibility that the border control between the countries could be reinstated. And this is Ireland, where even the smallest thing can turn complicated (like the flag issue for instance), due to their complex relationship. 

People are worried that a re-activation of the borders, could highlight the divisions that both countries have tried so hard - and for the most part succeeded  - to rid themselves off. And that this in turn may re-fuel sectarianism and lead them right back to 1969, something no-one in either country - bar a few idiots - ever wants to see again. 

I can't go into every little detail of the pro's and cons of either choice today because there is too much and it's so damned complicated. 

However, I think the one thing we can all agree on is that the referendum campaign has been a cock-up right from the start. Including by the tabloids who are supposed to be impartial, but clearly don't know the meaning of the word. Lies, propaganda, out 'n'out nastiness and too much info has left a lot of people very cautious and more confused and bewildered about this whole thing then they were before, and they have no idea which way to jump.

If you have made your choice today and voted, bravo. If you haven't (excluding those who are not eligible for whatever reason), do it. Toss a coin if you have to, but do it. Go out there and vote one way or the other. 

It will be the most important mark you EVER make.

  

  











Tuesday, 10 May 2016




STITCHING UP BILL NEELY



I've been an avid cross stitcher for the last twelve years. I discovered this delightful art form after being introduced to it by Don's sister who was really, really into it. I fell in love with it. 

I made mistakes at the beginning, as everyone does when they start a new idea. For instance, I didn't realise you were supposed to split your threads. All Skeins are made up of six threads which you use two at a time. If anyone wants me to do a 'guide to cross stitch' blog, please let me know.

But when I got going I really enjoyed it. I am a lot slower than most cross stitchers, mainly because I have an RSI injury which I have to be careful not to aggravate and I'm not as accurate, so I have to be more careful.

Three years ago, I met my hero Bill Neely and thought, "Never done a cross stitch portrait before. Could I do one?" Now was my chance to find out. I made a choice right there and then to do a portrait of Bill. I knew it would take a long time, I knew it would take a lot of concentration and a lot of commitment. What I didn't realise is that it would take three years of hard slog. Very happy hard slog.

May I add a big caveat to Bill that doing this cross stitch has been an absolute pleasure, and the following are just the general gripes of any cross stitcher who is doing a large and long project. There are no regrets involved. None at all.

I've lost count of the number of days I spent in Hobbycraft (or Hobby Lobby for my US friends), looking for different threads, needles, Aida (pronounced like the opera), plastic holders for threads, patterns, you name it. Cross stitch can be a very expensive hobby (no complaint - just an observation).

My Bill Neely cross stitch became my best friend. I took it everywhere with me: to the hotel I stayed in when I went to the London Marathon, on vacation to Northern Ireland, on the train. It has got incredibly yellow as a result.

I have listened to countless audio novels while stitching. To the point where - if I hear any of them again - I'll go nuts. 

I've worked my way through at least ten needles. Most are now hidden in a dark corner or are now in the carpet cleaner. Amazing how much thread I've used: 46 colours, each one at least three times, so that equates to 1.1 kilometre of thread! That's a lot of thread!! I've also used two sheets of Aida, lost and replaced at least two pairs of snips and three quick un-picks. I've accidentally snapped an embroidery ring (didn't use a plastic one after that - too fragile. I stick to wooden ones).

There are times when I've been in the right frame of mind (no pun intended) and managed to get a lot done and there are times when I have thrown my snips across the floor. I have spent many sleepless nights cross stitching. The one time when my chronic insomnia has become a blessing.

My printer has worked overtime, and cost me a few cartridges.

I've laughed when I've completed a bit that was really hard, I've also had my down days wondering if I will EVER get it finished.

But finish it I have, and despite the frustrations, I've loved every minute of it!!

I may have given the impression that cross stitching is nothing but a hassle. Not the case. Cross stitching is fun, and at the end you have created something that you can be proud of and that can bring joy to others, especially if you give it as a gift. But it takes hard work and commitment. If you have that, you can do it too.

When I put that final stitch in my Aida, I was so pleased, relieved and proud of myself. And I got a message from Bill saying, "You've done amazing work", which of course meant everything to me. If the person you make your gift for is pleased, then your time has been well spent.

As I said, it has taken me three years. Three years I wouldn't swap for anything. I'm going to finish some of my others that have been hanging around in a drawer for ages now!

Thanks Bill for your patience and your inspiration! X

My cross stitch in December 2015

Tuesday, 19 April 2016






MY BUCKET LIST

Everyone has their own dreams, but safe in the knowledge we probably won't achieve them, for whatever reason, we forget about them. There are lots of things that are out of reach to people for many reasons. 

Here are some of the things I would love to do if I could: 



JOURNALISM



1) This is the most important dream of all. So here goes:  I wish to work with my hero and

     friend Bill Neely. To learn from him has been a privilege. To work with him is
     something I want more than anything.

Honoured and privileged to know Bill Neely

2) To present Bill Neely with either a Journalist of the Year award or a BAFTA fellowship.

Bill Neely collects the BAFTA for Haiti 

3) To work for ITV News as I think they are amazing.

This speaks for itself!


4)  To be a foreign correspondent - out in the field getting down and dirty. (That's in THE field
     not in A field, though I may be in A field in the course of being in THE field). I don't want
     to be stuck behind a desk. I have no problem with those who do, but it's just not me. I
     want to be the next Kate Adie - out in a ditch in a floppy hat!

My inspiration, Kate Adie, in her floppy hat.  


5)   Visit 200 Grays Inn Road - just once!! Unless I get my dream of working at ITN of course.

200 Grays Inn Road - the home of ITN

6)   Visit Syria to see for myself what's going on. And no I'm not kidding.

Syria - as it used to be

7)   Interview Kate Adie. And unlike most people, I am perfectly happy to talk to her about                   Northern Ireland.

 Kate Adie - a woman who has inspired me more than she knows.


8)   Visit Al Jazeera English - in Doha!! And even better present a news hour with Kamahl                   Santamaria. Not Counting the Cost though, because some of the economics goes right
      over my head.  Though Kamahl makes it much easier to understand.

The lovely Kamahl Santamaria 

9)   Interview these journalists (long list - no particular order): Martin Bell, Peter Greste,
      Sue Turton, Lyse Doucet, Alastair Stewart,Jon Snow, James Mates, Paul Conroy,
      Tom Bradby.


10) To interview Ban-ki Moon 

Secretary General of the UN - the lovely Ban-ki Moon


MAD STUFF

1) Do a parachute jump. What better way to conquer a fear of heights than by jumping from               13,000 feet?

Arrrrgh!!

2) Do a bungy jump, preferably off my favourite railway bridge (the Royal Albert in Saltash,               Cornwall if you were wondering) (as above, though obviously not from 13,000 feet)

BOING!!


TRAVEL

1) Visit Necker Island. It's a beautiful place and I would love to spend time talking to Richard              Branson who I really admire.

Richard Branson's beautiful Necker Island

2)  See the Northern Lights

The Beautiful Aurora Borealis

3)  Dress as a geisha. Yep, I've already dressed in a kimono, but I'd like to do the whole geisha            thing.

Memoirs of a Geisha

4)  Visit Lanzarote. Want to visit here because it was the location of Planet of Fire - one of my            favourite Dr Who stories.

Timanfaya, Lanzarote



ANIMALS

1) Ride a camel. No, I have no idea why I want to do this. but I could do it while I'm doing number     four above.

2) Ride on a dog sled. Comes from my love of dogs (especially Huskies) and my love of snow. 

3)  Ride a horse. No, I've never been on a horse in my life. Seaside 'donk', yes. Horse, no. Horses      intimidate me slightly. Probably because they're so tall and I'm so tiny.


RAILWAYS

1) Drive a class 37 diesel or a First Generation DMU. I think they are both awesome.
    My attempts at driving a car were less than stellar. Maybe I'd do better here.

First Generation DMU
Class 37

2) Be a train announcer for one day. I blame it on Alfie Edmunds (for those old enough to                   remember him at Exeter St Davids) and the lovely Phil Sayer. RIP Phil..X

The talented Phil Sayer


OTHER COOL STUFF

1) Work - as opposed to volunteer, as I do now - for Cardiac Risk in the Young. They are a                wonderful charity and I would be proud to work for them.




2) Appear in a Big Finish audio drama.



Well there you have it. Some of the things I would like to do, but I have not yet had the chance to. Maybe one day I'll get a chance to do all of them, because as Katie Adie says, "You never know!"






Tuesday, 22 March 2016




THE NEELY FAN GUIDE TO AMERICAN FOOTBALL


I've been asked to explain the fundamentals of American Football. A lot of British/Irish people look at the game and wonder what the hell is going on. My Uncle hated it because he said it broke the rules of rugby from which it was derived (dare we say it). American Football is actually pretty easy to understand. We'll start with the obvious. 

THE TEAMS

As of writing this there are 32 teams split into two conferences: the AFC and the NFC. These are further split into compass divisions - the North, South, East and West. The North and South are actually a recent addition, as in the 80's - when I first became a fan - it was the East, Central and West. That was it. Now we have this:



You can see from the above that I have a favourite team in the AFC East (Buffalo Bills) and two in the NFC North (Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers) Each team has its own uniform and hat emblem.


THE PITCH

The pitch is 120 yards long if you include the two end zones (this is the bit with the team's name on). The middle 100 yards is marked out in divisions of 10 yards, with a 50 yard line in the middle and moving out to the end zones decreasing ten yards at a time.














THE TEAM

Teams are divided into three: the Offense, the Defense, and a special team (punts, extra points etc). There will either be an offence and opposing teams defense on the pitch or a special team from either side.

THE BEGINNING

A special team from both sides come on to the pitch. The offensive side's kicker 'punts' the ball to a defense side's player down the field. The defensive player will then either go down on one knee, claiming a fair catch or will try and and run with the ball back up the field. The spot will then be marked to begin the game. The special teams then leave the field. 


THE GAME

The game has a playing time of exactly one hour, divided into four 15 minute quarters. If at the end of this hour, both teams are even then another quarter will be added until someone wins.  Due to stoppages, penalties, halftime show, etc, the whole thing takes around three hours. The place where the spot was marked is called the 'the line of scrimmage'. The offense and defense stand opposite each other on it. The offense will have four chances to move the ball 10 yards, moving towards the opposing end zone. If they get 10 yards on the first attempt, this ten yard mark becomes the new line of scrimmage. The process is then repeated until they reach the end zone. If they don't get ten yards on the first try they start again to try and get the extra yardage. Example here:

10 yards achieved = 1st down (also known as 1st down and ten) 
6 yards achieved = 2nd down (second attempt) to pick up the missing 4 yards (second down and four)
2 yards achieved = 3rd down (3rd attempt) to pick up missing 2 yards. (3rd down and 2)
If ten yards have not been achieved by the 4th down, the team attempts a three point field goal or relinquishes possession to the other side and we go back to the punt and start again. 

If in the attempt to get the ball ten or more yards, the ball ends up being caught in the end zone, it's called a touchdown and the team then relinquishes the ball to the other side.

Special teams can also try and kick the ball over the post (like the one in rugby) on 4th down to at least get three points. If successful, the ball is then released to the other side. 

If the team gets a touchdown they can also kick an extra point which is where special teams come in. The kicker tries to kick it over the aforementioned rugby bar for one point. 




And so it goes on!


SCORE

Touchdown - running/catching the ball in the end zone = 6 Points
Extra point - kick over goal post after Touchdown = 1 Point
Field Goal - kick on 4th down = 3 points
Safety - offense's ball carrier tackled in own end zone = 2 points to the defense.


PENALTIES

Penalties will be indicated by a judge throwing a yellow/red flag into the pitch. There are too many to name here but most are penalised by moving back five yards, except for serious infractions like personal fouls and face mask grabbing which is given a severe penalty of moving back fifteen yards.


LINGO

Snap = The Centre player throwing the ball through his legs to the quarterback who will either throw the ball to a wide receiver/tight end, pass it to a running back or run with it himself. He must do at least one of these before he is tackled by a defense player.

Sack = The quarterback being tackled and brought down to the ground before he has let go of the ball.

Fumble = Dropping the ball, or not catching it properly in the first place.

Interception = A throw caught by the opposing side giving them possession of the ball.

Punt = The kick that starts the match.

Dead ball = A ball that has hit the ground is therefore no longer in play.

Huddle = All the players stood on the line of scrimmage.

Play Action Fake = Quarterback fooling the defense into thinking he has done one thing so he can do something they were not prepared for. For instance he may make it look like he is passing the ball to a runner, so the defense go after the runner, leaving  the receivers/tight-ends free to catch the ball he will throw.


These basics are all you really need to know to understand football. The rest of it is unnecessary waffle. Hope you understand the game a little better now. If anyone notices a mistake, please feel free to let me know.

See you in September!! From a Bears addict!