Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

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I’ve always disliked Facebook. After resisting it for years I finally succumbed when teenagers in a project I ran in the village where I live said it was the best way to communicate with them. For this I created a private group. Later our local writers’ club created a private FB group and that remains very useful.

I have found limited use of Twitter useful too – letting me know of new posts from blogger friends who do not have a ‘follow’ possibility on their non-Wordpress sites but ‘boost’ their posts on Twitter, and to let friends who do not use WordPress, and do not wish to follow by email, of my new blog posts.

But the love affairs with FB and Twitter, if they ever existed, are over. On the other hand, my love for radio has regrown over the past few months. The following rundown refers, of course, to when I am home alone on weekdays.

Twitter

After signing up to FB and Twitter I was rapidly bombarded by ‘suggestions’  for new groups/people to ‘follow’. In Twitter particularly posts appear regularly from organisations or people I have not ‘chosen’. Almost never are these of interest. On the other hand I did sign up to several favourite musicians but most of these are just promotional rather than containing interesting information. Then there are ‘friends’ who rarely post anything original, they just ‘share’ posts from others. Again, these are rarely of interest. In Twitter particularly annoying are multiple, lots, of posts per day, and many repeats; TES (more sensibly named in the past Times Educational Supplement), which I chose to follow because my wife is a teacher, is really irritating in the respect. It’s no longer followed but I continue to follow GuardianTeach. (In the past I unfollowed quite a few WordPress bloggers who blogged multiple times a day and bunged up my reader and/or inbox).

Facebook

As far as FB is concerned, it seems often to bring out the very worst in people. One recent example was prompted by a mildly contentious post on the WordPress site/blog I do for the village in which I live. It concerned an organisation run by someone with whom I am regularly in contact; in fact only a few days before she had emailed me for some help, which I had given. However, when she did not like the post on the village site did she comment there or approach me directly? No, she posted her objection on a village FB page and, of course, this was followed by a host of FBers joining in.

The village FB page, despite the pinned post asking that posts be limited to “Anything that adds life to the village”, probably has more that do not do this than do, and so many are barely disguised advertising. Many have nothing at all to do with the village other than they may have been written by someone who lives in it but often promote events, and businesses elsewhere (and of course self-promotion is rife). I’m only too aware of the problems for the admin to control this. 

Going to ‘home’, the reader is littered with ‘suggested posts’ and advertisements which are almost never of interest, and other ads are often promoting ‘scams’.

Messenger

Something I do like is ‘Messenger’. Very useful for short communications with friends and ‘friends’, including my wife. It’s become even more useful as free WiFi has been introduced on local bus and train services. The telephone and texting have become almost redundant!

Drastic prune underway

I’m sure that anyone running a business should be using FB and Twitter but I do not so they have become more and more irritating and time wasting. Recently I decided to do a drastic prune of both. I am now in the process reducing ‘follows’ to a small number of friends (in the original sense) and an even smaller number of organisations with which I am involved in some way. I’ve not yet completed the job but already my daily FB and Twitter trawl is quicker and much more relevant. One of the first to go was the village FB group mentioned.

Radio

On the other hand a love of radio way in the past has been revived. It’s not perfect, but so much less superficial than tv. The few minute bites on tv usually leave me with a host of unanswered questions; more often than not a radio programme tackling the same subject satisfies my information need.

Classic FM

Most mornings I have Classic FM on the radio; I deliberately did not say I ‘listen’ to it!’ I have found a perfect low volume at which the music is a pleasant background but the majority of presenters’ interjections can be ignored and, even more important, so can the advertisements the perpetrators of which seem to have the view that the Classic FM audience is either senile or stupid.The station has improved a lot recently by running fewer of the assinine ads and also by airing the musical pot-boilers less frequently and introducing me to many new pieces and even previously unknown, to me, composers. I have found that I have a volume control in my head which I can wind up if something interesting or I wish to stop and listen to comes on.

I find the women presenters far more acceptable than the males with one exception, Aled Jones (and every time his rendition of Handel’s ‘Have you heard my lady’ is aired I wind up my in-ear volume control to experience the exquisite tingling in the spine which his voice and amazingly clear diction always provoke). 

At 1pm I switch to BBC4 to catch up on what to the media is the most important news, following which I get a host of facts and opinions on everything from gardening (even though I do not have a garden) to finances, books, science, medicine and the tortuous thinking behind Round Britain Quiz. I don’t switch off the Archers though I might use the 15min intermission to do some urgent small job. Although the 45 minute drama at 2.15pm is of variable quality it is always interesting to me as a would-be writer. I may make it until 5pm at which point I usually turn my attention to preparing the evening meal, often a bit before that.

Of course another advantage of radio over tv is that you can often do other things while listening, as I usually do. When the radio is in ‘background’ mode this includes writing, as now.

TV

At 6pm on goes the tv for the news as we sit down to our evening meal; I stick with BBC 1 mainly because I like to watch Look North, especially if my three favourite presenters – Lara Rostrom, Charlotte Leeming and Tanya Arnold – are on air. Lara is a fairly recent addition (a year?) but Charlotte and Tanya are old hands and whatever else I just enjoy watching the professionalism of all three (Tanya is a surprise as I’m not generally interested in sport!).

Back to blogging

Culling FB and Twitter should, I hope, allow more opportunity for blogging, both reading blogs – usually so much less superficial than FB and T – and writing them – so much more enjoyable!

It’s a while since I managed to write a post here, and even longer (about a month) since I was able to pay close attention to the many excellent blogs I follow. The same has been true of my other (photo) blog, grumpytykepix. It’s been due to a combination of diversions:

  • getting a new website/blog ‘live’ for my employer;
  • getting embroiled in a campaign fighting inappropriate development in the village in which I live, which has revealed at best incompetence in the local (Bradford) council, at worst possible corruption – all this as part of authoring a WordPress blog for my village;
  • being commissioned to author a column in a local weekly newspaper covering forthcoming events in my village and a nearby small town, Otley (yesterday was the fifth appearance);
  • being diverted by a wonderful 88 year old lady who telephoned me to ask whether her family history might be interesting for an article in the paper (it’s fascinating!).

Fewston (Washburn Valley, Yorkshire) Marriages (more…)

Although I love to labour over complex classic French recipes, I also like to throw things together quickly, especially when I’m using my female ‘multi-tasking’ alias. Such was yesterday – when, among other things, I wanted to scan a film and do a post for my photo blog. Accomplished. However, seeing that a number of people had dropped in to my ‘About’ on this one, while I was quickly ‘throwing together’ a meal which reminded me of my student days I thought I’d expand a bit on my ‘About’ bio.

Student days - the '74' skiffle group. After a year of fun, gigging up and down the A5 trunk road, we all did badly in our exams and gave it up.

Student days – the ’74’ skiffle group. After a year of fun, gigging up and down the A5 trunk road, we all did badly in our exams and gave it up.

Towards the end of my apprenticeship (so approaching 21 years old), when I was studying for a Higher National Diploma in Applied Physics, I was awarded a scholarship to go to university to do a BSc in Physics (clever little sod at that time despite spending most of one year doing gigs up and down the A5 – no M1 motorway then – as the thimble-toting washboard/ukulele player in a skiffle group. Anyone remember skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, a real musician?). By then I was beginning to want to change to something involving writing but I took up the scholarship in London. It lasted only a year before I made a determined attempt to get in to journalism, a goal I reached in about 3 months.

Suet dumpling and Baby Belling

Back to student days. We received our student grant in three amounts a year, one at the beginning of each term. Being totally unskilled in financial management, and caring even less, we spent most of it in the first few weeks. So, what to eat for the rest of the term?

Top_1060925

I invented a kind of large biscuit, basically the same recipe as suet dumpling, but flavoured with an Oxo beef cube (or maybe Bovril?), flattened out to a circle about the size of a dinner plate, which went under the grill of the bed-sit Baby Belling cooker for a few minutes. That was ‘dinner’ most days of the week (unless I had a good win at poker).

Pot_1060924

Yesterday, while drafting this post, I threw some chicken legs, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, a lot of lentils and a very large ‘bouquet garni’ into a Romanian gypsy pot, added pepper (a lot) and salt (very little), covered with water and left to simmer till tender. Then I made my large suet ‘biscuit’ (flour:suet two to one) but instead of Oxo laced it with parsley and sage. Rolled out very roughly to fit the pot, dropped on top of the chicken then in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Cooked_1060927

Simple, quick, but deliciously, warmingly filling on a day when snow is falling.

Into Fleet Street

So, having finished my first degree year I decided not to continue. I walked down Fleet Street, then the true centre of the Press, and called in every editorial office saying I wanted a writing job. “Have you any experience?” was the inevitable question in each one. “No”. “Well come back when you have”.

I was lucky. A good friend’s sister had a boyfriend who was a journalist with a north London newspaper group. He took me to meet the editor. “We can’t give you a job”, he said, “but if you want to come in every day and do whatever we ask we’ll buy you a beer and sausages lunch in the pub every day”. Of course I took it.

First I had to learn to type. I was put in front of a very ancient Underwood typewriter and given a para, which used every key, to type over and over again. It wasn’t ‘The quick brown fox …’ and it’s not repeatable here. I mastered the typewriter.

Then I was sent out on every imaginable kind of story – court reporting, council meetings, accidents, sports events, more than I can remember now. I loved it. I learned so much, but particularly how to make a front page story from nothing, how to condense a story into a selling headline, what makes a good picture, how to cut a story to fit a space without losing its essence and, most important of all, the fact that you can never, never miss a deadline.

Fleet Street again

It was time to attack Fleet Street again. The walk of three months before was repeated, to no avail until I reached Bouverie House, headquarters of a then renowned publisher of trade/technical journals, Benn Brothers. The Editorial Director, Mr Woolley (no first names in those collar and tie times!), agreed to see me. He listened to my story then asked, “Do you know anything about chemistry?” “Not a thing”, I said, though I did have to belatedly sit and pass the GCE ‘O’ level chemistry exam to take up my BSc Physics scholarship. “I’m sorry”, he said, “but the only vacancy we have is on a weekly chemical industry newspaper”. “I’ll take it”, I said, and surprisingly he accepted that. That was 1962.

Again my luck was in. As I have written in my ‘About’ piece, the editor of the chemical industry news journal, Mike Hyde, a superb journalist, was one of the two biggest positive influences on my journalistic life; although he ‘threw me in the deep end’, giving me a major story to cover on my first day, he was always there to advise, guide, correct and understand, helping me to continue to accrue the knowledge and skills which had begun earlier on the local newspapers. He also sent me, for the first time in my life, all over Europe, including Communist Europe, an invaluable experience for someone in their early 20s in the 1960s. (Imagine arriving in, say, Prague, not a word, sign or speaker of English anywhere, everything in Cyrillic. You learn very fast!).

At that time I set myself a target, to be an editor and have an income of £3,000 a year (£42,000 or much more in today’s money) by the time I was 30. I achieved it two years earlier than that, no small credit to Mike Hyde.

Nowadays the chances of a keen young writer being able to repeat my experience is about nil; without a degree in journalism, media studies or the like they’ll have no chance. This has done nothing for the standards of journalism today. The appreciation of the value of learning by experience, as I did during my apprenticeship and my early times in the Press, has been replaced by the idea that everyone MUST go to university. It’s a sad, destructive nonsense.

So now – 1962 – I’m a journalist; I’ll continue the story another day.

Several of the blogs I follow add the strapline ‘author’, or mention that this is what they are in the ‘About’. I think I understand what this means.
 
However, some add ‘writer’ as a strap line or describe themselves as this. I’m not sure I understand what this means (I know the dictionary definitions of course).
My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

 
Am I a ‘writer’? I don’t think so, or I don’t think many people would consider me to be one, but I have certainly written millions of words in my lifetime. I’m leaving aside personal letters (and, over the past 20 years or so, emails), reports and the like, which would account for many, many thousands of words. For around 10 years I wrote no less than 5,000 words a week, so a total of 2.5 million words would be a very conservative estimate during this time alone. In the remaining 40 or so years of my adult life I’ve probably averaged a weekly writing output of about a fifth of this, so around another 2 million in all. Let’s say around 5 million words in total. You might gather that I like to write. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
One response
  
Commenting on a recent post on a blog I follow, I said that from the post and the many comments it attracted: “Some of the responses, and even your post, seem to suggest that it (a ‘writer’) is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event. I’m sometimes prompted to write by such things, but that doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’ either”.
 
The blogger, who terms herself ‘author’, replied: “I don’t think a ‘writer’ is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event … We are all writers if we are ‘writing a book’ – but when that book is published we become the ‘author’ of the book. I see no reason why anyone who is writing a book (whether it be fiction, poetry or an autobiography) can’t call themselves a ‘writer’ – because basically they are”. This seems to suggest that – with the exception of an autobiography – you are only a ‘writer’ if you write something fictional. So what about, eg, a ‘travel writer’?
 
I have not written, nor am I writing, a ‘book’. I have attempted a short story – ‘published’ on this blog. And every one of those 2.5 million words over a 10 year period I mention above was published – on paper; what is more, they were not self-published – I was either commissioned to write them or they were accepted and paid for by a publisher. Probably around a quarter of the other 2 million I mentioned were published. But this still does not seem to make me a ‘writer’.
 
Some of the bloggers who say they are a ‘writer’ write, often very eloquently, about writing. These are usually very popular blogs, attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of followers and comments. Many of these writers on writing have not had anything published other than self-published, often then only on their blog. Does this make them a ‘writer’? I’m not sure. What is more, sometimes when I’ve been able to access something they have ‘written’ – a book or short story – I’ve not been anything like as impressed as with the quality when they are ‘writing about writing’.
Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don't make me a 'writer', but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don’t make me a ‘writer’, but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

 
An urge to write?
 
Does it have something to do with an urge to write? I’m not sure about this either; I have had an urge to write since childhood but again this doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’. In fact, almost everything I find interesting, fascinating, distressing or joyful urges me to write, and sometimes I write about it, as now. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
Steinbeck, Dickens, and who?
 
I’ve been reading books, I am told, from the age of three. The most influential on me was read when a teenager – Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath‘. The grammar is often dreadful, some passages seemingly overlong and difficult to get through, but I have no doubt he was a ‘writer’. Why? Because what he wrote has had such an effect on the whole of what I became? I don’t think this is the answer either, because some authors who I have no doubt are ‘writers’ simply give me enjoyment, as does so much of Dickens (I’m ignoring here his wealth of social commentary, which has also done much to mould my social conscience).
 
I don’t have that many ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ as followers so perhaps I should ask those of you who have to broadcast the question out to their many ‘writer/author’ followers and feed back in some way.
 
Or is the question of interest only to me?

I’m about half way in drafting the promised post on my disappointment with what Britain has become – basically since Tony Blair became prominent on the scene (until which time I was a life-long Labour supporter). I guess it’s going to get me into quite a bit of trouble with many people, but perhaps not as it’s likely not that many people will read it.

I’m prompted to find time to complete it by many recent events, among which:

  • being told I could not take photographs of my teenage nephew playing football;
  • my subsequent weekend in Germany where I freely took pictures in a children’s playground full of children and their parents without complaint (I have put just one, of my grandson on my classic camera/film ‘photo’ blog – grumpytykepix);
  • children taken away from foster parents because they were members of UKIP (I am not, by the way, a UKIP supporter in general);
  • looking through a recent GCSE maths paper and finding I could do the first five questions in my head in less than a minute (I haven’t ‘done’ maths for over 50 years);
  • Bradford metropolitan council’s insistence on allowing hundreds of new houses to be built in an area which simply cannot support them (in fact almost anything Bradford Council has done in the past two decades);
  • the appalling treatment of elderly people in the NHS;
  • the increasing ‘regulation by tick box’ in vital areas like care and education;
  • the appalling fall in journalistic standards, in general but particularly at the BBC (and the schoolboy antics introduced into many otherwise interesting and ‘serious’ programmes);
  • … there are a few more.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll succeed to do a post or two on more enjoyable things, like food and cooking – especially as I’m really keen to try a couple of recipes (onion soup and a chocolate cake) on one of my favourite ‘cookery’ blogs (actually more than that), ‘My French Heaven’.

one destination

straight     curious meander

we wonder and wait

This is the last of my existing pictures which immediately prompted a haiku. The exercise has had an interesting result: now I’m looking for the picture and the haiku at the same time. I’ve not yet had time to indulge that.

Since I got into this I’ve read a bit more about haiku; it seems there are all sorts of combinations which are considered to be ‘haiku’ – even a single word. 

That doesn’t do for me. I like the discipline of trying to marshal my thoughts into the 17 syllable, 5-7-5, formation. Though I was glad to learn about the use of space as a kind of punctuation – as above.

Perhaps liking the discipline comes from learning, as a journalist, to make a ‘story’ fit into pretty much an exact number of words, or a similar discipline as an advertising copy writer – in general with far fewer words to play with.

In just the same way, I like to marshal my photographic thoughts with the discipline of using film. However, I’m quite happy to use the ‘indiscipline’ of digital photography for other projects, and I’m looking forward to having the creative inspiration to compose many more words in a single piece of imaginative writing – if it ever happens. But I won’t tag it as haiku.