Depression

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After the sad news about Robin Williams this week, I thought now was probably the right time to come out and talk about my own experiences of depression.

I was diagnosed a couple of years ago, but it became clear to me that I’ve been suffering – in denial – for a very long time, in fact as long as I can remember back to my childhood – what I now knew as depression were feelings that I don’t really remember ever NOT having.

For me the depression manifests itself in a complete lack of self-worth – I have never been a particularly confident person, apart from when I am. Which sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not really. Whenever I’m doing something for work, like broadcasting to tens of thousands of people – or standing on stage in front of a huge crowd, I’m fine. But try and make me walk through the door of an unfamiliar pub first and I turn to jelly. Just writing that out here now is making me feel anxious, nervous, I can feel the physical knotting of my stomach at the thought of having to do that.

Having that lack of confidence has affected me over the years at work though. I’ve never pushed myself forward in my career particularly, I stayed in the first place I felt comfortable for (in hindsight) way too long. I *am* a very good news reader, but I never tried to take that talent to somewhere bigger and better. Why? Because I don’t believe that I’m anything special, I’m just lucky to have achieved what I’ve achieved, anyone could do it. Even though I know I’m good, I don’t believe it. Still now. This isn’t some sort of humblebrag. I don’t and can’t appreciate my own talent. Even if people grab me by the shoulders and shake me and tell me how good I am.

I find motivating myself to do ANYTHING extremely difficult at times. I just feel like I am anchored to the sofa or bed. There’s no point in me trying to get up. I’m stuck here, no shifting me, no budging. I have to summon up superhuman strength – often involving verbally chastising myself for being a twat – to get myself going.

(from infinitenap.com)

Other days there’s no problem at all.

When I was seeing a counsellor I had to fill in one of the forms each week, so they knew if I was about to cause myself or someone else harm. I certainly had thoughts that I wished I didn’t exist, but I couldn’t motivate myself to kill myself. And there was no box on the forms for that. In fact there were very few boxes on the forms that really fit how I was feeling at all.

The lack of motivation and missing self-esteem cause big difficulties for me: inside I am all hugs and boundless Tigger-esque energy, the very epitome of throwing caution to the wind and being Mr Spontaneous – but only deep on the inside. Outwardly I can be grumpy, curmudgeonly, inflexible and insular. I’m working on all that. But it’s not easy when your depression is constantly saying “what’s the point in doing any of that? You’re not worth it.”

Also if you ask me if I’m okay, I’ll say “yes, just a bit tired” or similar. When what I actually mean is “no, I’m really lonely and fed up, I’ve got nobody to talk to and I feel trapped in some sort of limbo, I’m confused as hell about pretty much everything that’s going on.” Or something like that.

This from elysian-dreams.tumblr.com sums it up nicely:

Hearing all the talk about depression this week after Robin Williams’ death has made me think about my situation. I’m clearly not as badly off as he was, but I am still depressed and I keep hearing that it’s good to get these things in the open. Which is not something I’ve done much of previously. So there you go, that’s me and depression in a nutshell. Talk to me about it, if you want!

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NEWS

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Since leaving Real Radio at the end of March, when news operations were transferred to Global (only a few weeks in reality, but it seems a LIFETIME ago) I’ve been pretty much occupied with freelance work. Until June, when my weekdays have been a little more empty.  And as I’m not currently beavering away in a radio studio or at a newsdesk somewhere quite so much my thoughts naturally turned to radio news. That in which I have plied my trade for most of the last 20 years. And I thought it would be a good opportunity to exorcise some of my daemons, to have a good old whinge about a few things that have hacked-off this hack over the two decades.

VOX POPS
To the uninitiated (and non-Latin speakers) where you get a clips from a bunch of people in the street and ask them about something and put the clips together and put them in your news bulletin. I hate vox pops. With a raging passion. And I shall list my reasons:

1)      Who cares what Bob from Barnsley or Julie from Dewsbury thinks about anything – are they particular experts in their field? No. So what’s the bloody point of them being there? Does it make listeners think “hey, that’s someone who sounds like me opining on that subject, therefore I shall opine too”. No, I don’t believe it does.

2)      They are subject to the easiest manipulation by the person editing them together – I’ll just use all the ones where people say the new bypass is great and introduce it with “everyone in town agrees it’s brilliant”.  But ethical journalists would never do that, right? Maybe not consciously, but certainly you’ll use people who sound better – so there’ll be favouritism to the eloquent, educated, erudite or eccentric. Which may well include people who are particularly passionate about a subject and therefore skew the neutrality of the piece entirely.

3)      They are HORRIBLY time consuming, for a few seconds of audio it can take an hour of walking up to people and being told to “sod off” repeatedly – frankly I’d rather that hour was spent writing a better script, or researching  an expert who can enlighten us and explain the story better, or someone directly involved in it 

4)      Most people couldn’t give two hoots about most things you ask them about. If you can get them to stop and talk to you in the first place, that is.

There’s a reason the work experience kid always gets sent out to do vox pops and a reason why they’re few and far between in bulletins when there’s nobody in on placement.

VOICERS
A voicer, voice piece or voice report is when a reporter tells you something themselves. More details on a story, their observations from the scene of a thing. I don’t have the same hatred for voicers that I do for vox pops, but I would reserve a special place in Hell for Bad Voicers. And it would be very full that place, because unfortunately it seems many purveyors of the radio news art are incapable of doing voicers properly.  How many times have you heard this:

NEWSREADER:
A man’s been killed and three others injured after a crash on the High Street in Blogstown at about 7 this morning. Fred Snerg has more details for Made Up Radio.

REPORTER:
A man was killed and another three hurt in the crash on the High Street in Blogstown just before 7 o’clock this morning. Police don’t know what caused the crash that involved two cars and a rampaging manic 30 foot tall mongoose.

Ignore the bit about the mongoose, that’s not the problem. It’s the introduction and the reporter saying the same thing, often almost EXACTLY the same thing.  Time is precious in our news bulletins (more of THAT later) why are we wasting it saying the same thing twice? It’s just dumb. Two questions we should be asking ourselves, firstly – does it need a voicer at all? I’d argue that in this case the newsreader could’ve just read a straight script (a piece of copy, as we say in the trade) with all of the detail in it. Secondly, if we ARE going to use a reporter clip, what does it add? If the answer is nothing, then don’t do it. The best voicers are what I call reporter clips, where the journalist at the scene/summing-up speaks more naturally, more conversationally, to offer a considered view (not an opinion, we’re not allowed those) of the story.  If you don’t think this is a problem, listen carefully to the next few news bulletin you hear!

“WE’LL BE BACK AFTER THE NEWS”
Oh, it boils my petunias when I hear presenters say this. It immediately takes a great big ice-cream scoop and lifts the news out of the rest of the station. Way to make us feel welcome and worthy members of the team. It’s almost as if they’re saying “don’t worry, the boring old news will be done in 2 minutes, then I’ll be back with more wackiness and great music.” The best stations, the best radio programmers and the best presenters don’t alienate the news like this, it’s integrated into output and valued. Often when listeners are asked what’s most important about their local radio station – news will figure very highly. (They probably mean travel news, but I’m taking the crumbs here, we get seldom few leg-ups!)

SHORTER AND SHORTER BULLETINS
“The news bulletins aren’t very good, but we have to do them, so let’s make them shorter”  Seems to have been a mantra applied in commercial radio a few years ago. Rather than looking at the root cause of WHY the bulletins were not up to standard: chronic underfunding, lack of resources, lack of qualified personnel, lack of interest from the powers that be. We’ve gone from 3 minute bulletins being the regular thing when I started out 20 years ago, to you being lucky if your local or regional station does 2 minutes of news.  There’s no reason why a decent bulletin editor can’t get all the relevant national and local news into 2 minutes, but it’ll always be at the expense of something – and if that something was the one thing that the listener wanted to hear about, you’ve lost them. And if you lose them in the news, will they stay for the rest of the programming and commercials? Salaries have always been terrible in commercial radio news, generally, so there’s a natural talent drain to the BBC where “things are better”, whether the grass is actually greener on the Auntie side is a debate for another day. But certainly equipment is more plentiful, resources exist and wages are much better – on the whole. So commercial radio is left with the die-hards, the newbies, the jaded and the useless. Any wonder that the quality dips?  It’s like a self fulfilling prophecy. And if the news is good, relevant and engaging then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed to run for 3 minutes, that’s still shorter than most of today’s pop songs.

FOLLOW THE LEAD-ER
My personal buzzword for news is “relevance”. Is everything that’s included in your 2 or 3 minutes as relevant as it can be for as much of your audience as is possible? If this means running a news bulletin that’s 100% local, or 100% national, so long as you can justify its relevance to your target audience, I’m happy.  Too many news outlets seem to play follow the lead, especially with the newspapers. Whilst I’m not denying that there is still a lot of influence in our press, especially in the corridors of power – this does not translate to the audience in general of most of the radio stations that I’ve worked at. Newspapers sales are dwindling, let’s stop being beholden to them as if they’re some great bastion of integrity and truth in whose shining light we should all bask.  They have their moments still. But let’s realise that the world’s moved on. And from the banal “Chair Found In Street” type of stories in local newspapers, to the horror of phone hacking, this is not an institution that we should follow unflinchingly. Yet we do. More radio stations and their news editors and bulletin editors should be proud to stand up and follow their own path, decide on what’s right for their audience and cater for that. Even if they’re the only ones doing it. That’s what makes distinctive radio and stops the news being boring.

Now, all that having been said, if anyone would like to employ me, I have availability in August onwards…

DATE

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I’ve been up to something on the internet. Something that may shock and surprise you. Something that many people consider taboo and not the kind of thing that cultured, intelligent people should indulge in. That many would want absolutely nothing to do with.

I’ve joined a dating site.

I have to say rather than being a life-affirming way of making contact with like-minded souls who I might want to spend eternity with, it’s been a rather dispiriting experience, with a handful of views and virtually no contacts from anyone that I would be interested in. That’s despite me playing the game the way it’s SUPPOSED to work and sending “hello” messages to many women who I’d be interested in chatting to. With most not even bothering to reply with a “no thanks”.

As you can imagine, I’m very polite, I have decent photographs where I don’t look like a loon and I have a well written profile. Though writing about yourself in that context is extremely difficult – I thought it was bad doing my professional blurb for my website, but this was a thousand times more difficult.

One of the reasons I joined-up was to help boost my confidence and to have someone to spend some of my long, lonely hours with – don’t worry, I didn’t put it that pathetically in my write-up! But it’s having the opposite effect on my already fragile self-esteem. Why does nobody want to talk to me? Why is nobody interested in me? I’m not asking you to marry me, I’m just saying “hello”. Am I SO objectionable and repulsive that the women who glance at my profile immediately are turned to stone? (Don’t answer that).

I’ve tried to make my profile come across as naturally “me” as I can. No, I’m not putting a link here nor telling you which site or sites I’m on. And I’ve made a real effort, unfortunately, as I browse through the profiles the same can’t be said for many of the others on the site. There are some shocking examples of profile pictures, let alone what’s written in some of them. I feel slightly uncomfortable with the whole notion of dismissing or accepting someone on the basis of photographs alone, it’s actually objectifying them – but that’s what these sites force you to do. I’ve gone through and stopped when someone’s caught my eye and then read their profile and only contacted them if they still interest me, which is the same as spotting someone across a room and going over to talk to them, right?

So all that having been said, here’s my list of shame for picture no-nos that I’ve spotted (no examples, as that would be very unfair!):

  • DOGS – just a photo of Fido, not you – that really will attract the wrong sort dear.
  • BLURRED – perhaps you have the shakes and that’s why your selfie looks like a still from a CCTV camera?
  • GURNING – yeah there’s nothing a man likes more than a woman pulling a ridiculous face, way to go girl!
  • MISERABLE – oh you think it’s a sexy pout? It’s not.
  • RED EYE – bad photo, or are you possessed by the Devil? A Daemoness I could be interested in, a bad photographer not really.
  • GROUP SHOT – I rather hope you’re the one of the left, ‘cos she’s really hot – but you’re not are you? You’re the one who looks like the back of a bus in the middle
  • YOUR KIDS – yes, I’m proud of my progeny too, but I wouldn’t put a picture of her on my profile – especially not JUST a photo of her – again attracting the wrong sort there
  • YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE – okay, you’ve been to Kilamanjaro, or you haven’t and just nicked the picture from Google Images – seeing a mountain helps me to know you how?
  • SUNGLASSES – if you’re shy why not a burka? Or a gimp mask? At least then we’d be able to see your eyes, the window to your soul. Ah, maybe you have no soul. Noted.
  • TOILET – nothing more romantic than a selfie taken in a bathroom mirror, nightclub toilet cubicle etc. Love to see a Toilet Duck peeping out from under your armpit.
  • ANOTHER BLOKE – erm, is it your brother? gay best friend? Or are you in fact a couple looking for a third? Oh, the bowl of car keys on the table, didn’t spot that.
  • WEDDING DRESS – I don’t even know where to start on how wrong THAT is.
  • HALLOWEEN COSTUME – unless you really are just a slutty witch/cheerleader – actually, hang on, I never replied to that one…

BIRTHDAY

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This week has seen my daughter’s 10th Birthday. So I thought a look back at the cakes she’s had for the last 10 years might be in order.  This idea came to me after seeing the hilarious blog about people being unable to effectively realise things they’d seen on Pinterest. I hope our efforts were not quite worthy of inclusion there. Much effort was put in. Well, some years, some effort was put in. Though things didn’t start well. But what the hell, she was 1, she didn’t have a clue what a birthday was: Image Okay things get a LOT more creative for her second birthday, looking at the cakes also demonstrates her ever-shifting tastes and interests. In 2006 it was clearly Greendale’s finest. I seem to recall it being mostly made of battenburg and us having a lot of trouble with Pat drying up before we got him in place. I was particularly proud of Jess however: Image So in 2007 we have the epic Cinderella castle.  I know, you thought you were looking at a photo of Disneyland, right? No, my friend, that’s a cake. It’s a cake that caused a massive tantrum and a domestic and food colouring to get spilled on the new sofa. I was only responsible for one of those things happening. It’s your standard Swiss Roll and Giant Swiss roll combination, with ice cream cones for the spires. What else?  What can’t be seen in this picture is the Pumpkin Coach.  Which for reasons best known to ourselves was a Chocolate Orange covered in icing:Image I think by 2008 we’d hit our creative stride. When I say “we”, Steph did most of this – perhaps this was her making good the incident where one of the spires was thrown at me in a fit of frustration about which 6 years later she still feels shame. Anyway Lady and the Tramp was en vogue for the 4th birthday, I really don’t know why:Image In 2009 we move from a Disney classic to a Disney current and an obsession with High School Musical.  This one was me, albeit with the aid of some printed imagery for the cupcakes, cunningly designed so there was a bun for everyone at the party.  Cutting out that West High Wildcats logo to go on the top tier was a right pain the backside, let me tell you. All the while the icing drying out:Image Home based party meant efforts were not put into cake in 2010.  Instead efforts were put into going to ASDA and buying a Muppet cake, even though she really didn’t have the first clue who Animal was, except we all had items of clothing with him on: Image Another cop out in 2011 – this is not just any birthday cake, this a Marks & Spencer birthday cake, it was delicious. At the price we paid, I should bloody hope so. Why don’t my decorated cakes look so neat? 😦 Image Now 2012 was a joint effort along with my baking maestro pal Ailsa. She MADE the cake and decorated the Big Top. I sugar crafted the Lion, Ringmaster and Clown. Just don’t mention the fact that it looks a bit like a stripey boob:Image Vague cop-out again for the 9th birthday, again facilitated by ASDA.  Charlotte almost coming to blows with the man in the bakery counter who said the image that I’d created couldn’t be put on the cake because of copyright. “It’s MY name and MY picture” she insisted. I assured the gentleman that it was a widely used public domain motif and thus not subject to copyright. Charlotte continued to voiciferously protest. I wasn’t aware they’d been spending much time on the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 in her primary school. Anyway after the shop assistant spoke to his manager the design was printed and stuck onto the cake within a few minutes. Though, ASDA, if you’re listening – you need to make the boxes re-closeable for these print your own cake things, you have to rip ’em open to get inside and then you come perilously close to the thing sliding out constantly. Trust me. Image And so to this year’s effort. Disney themed again, as her present is being taken to Florida this summer holiday.  I looked back at my previous efforts and with the aforementioned blog in mind decided not to go for the “Full Mickey”. There was no way I was going to get something that looked accurate enough to be Mr Mouse, so I thought, little Mickey Mouse head shapes all over in a random pattern. Mickey Mouse cookie cutters, they’ll be easy to find, right?  Not so much. An 80 mile round trip to an eBayer’s house in Barnsley got me the goods however. So it might be one of the more simple self-decorated cakes that we’ve done, but it actually probably took the longest to do. And considering some of the early efforts (Postman Pat, Lady & the Trap and Cinderella’s castle) involved us pulling almost-all-nighters, that’s saying something. Image So, there you have it. My daughter’s 10 years on the planet told through the medium of cake.  Some of which feature in the mock-up Facebook Look Back video that I created for her., THAT took me 12 hours. I hope she bloody appreciates all the effort that goes into these things.

GAY

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So the very talented actress Ellen Page has come out.  Good for her.  I don’t care.

Really.

Absolutely no interest whatsoever.

It angers me that people still are forced to come out publicly like she has done – in Ellen’s case clearly quite a difficult and painful experience, her speech whilst brilliant and delivered eloquently was clearly the most difficult thing she’d ever said.  She’d agonised over every word and run through that speech a million times in her head, I’m sure.

But really someone’s sexuality should not be an issue for anyone but themselves and whoever they wish to share that with.

I wish there was no such thing as “coming out” and I long for the day that these stories stop being news.

It seems a ludicrous double standard to me that we’re just weeks away from the historic change in the law to allow same-sex marriages in England, yet there’s still a prurient interest in a celebrity openly revealing themselves to be gay. 

But what makes Ellen Page’s coming out announcement different is what she says in her speech – she’s already countered my point about it not being necessary quite neatly.

She says as someone in the public eye, with a  profile – a celebrity, if you will, it’s her “personal obligation and social responsibility” to speak out about her sexuality, so that others in the same position as her might take some comfort that they are not alone.

So, now I feel like a bit of a shit, for saying “I don’t care” in the first line of this blog post. ‘Cos that’s really, actually quite important what she’s saying there.

As a white, straight, middle class male – I’m lucky to have never been the victim of an –ism or a –phobia.  Nobody’s mocked my skin colour, nobody’s made lewd comments about my appearance in the street, nobody’s picked on me because of who I fancy.

So maybe I shouldn’t weigh in to this issue about coming out.  It’s not my department.  Nothing to do with me. And I should let those who’ve suffered speak up and speak out, for they know how it feels to be a victim and I don’t.

Except, I think it IS something to do with me – and everyone.

Just as Ellen Page says her announcing her sexuality is a “personal obligation and social responsibility”, so I should speak up and air my view that we ought to be in a position where nobody bats an eyelid – or even better that there is no appetite or interest in these sorts of stories in the first place. Because I think it’s just as important for the victims of bigotry to know that not everyone else in the world is a bigot and actually yeah, I know there’s loads of people who’ve gone through what you’ve gone through and can empathise from direct experience, but I and lots and lots of people like me can/will/do support you too and are supporting change for you, even if it doesn’t really affect us personally ourselves.

So, to edit what I said right at the start of this posting: Ellen Page has come out – excellent news, I’m really proud of her, I hope she’s happy and her words give comfort and confidence to thousands of others. And Ellen and all those that come – as you might term “after Ellen” – you have my support any time you need it.  Which you probably won’t.  But the offer’s there 🙂

WOMEN

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Two things that I have seen on Facebook today have got me thinking and in fierce debate with my nearest and dearest.

And they are both the same thing when it boils down to it.

Firstly, the news that the BBC is to ban all male panels on its quiz shows.

Secondly, Debenhams using women of varying shapes and sizes in their catalogues.

It needs to be said at this point, I suppose, that I am an out and out equalitarian. I believe that all people should be afforded the same opportunity and respect regardless of their gender, race, orientation, age or any other facet of their being that you might choose to single out.

But the BBC male panel ban – and their previously announced desire to get 50% off their local radio breakfast programmes hosted by women by the end of 2015 – does not sit well with me. Appointments to these positions should be made on merit, the most talented people should be getting the jobs. It does nobody any good for rubbish women to get jobs, just based on their chromosomal arrangements.

1) It diminishes the quality of the programming, which we all pay for this being the BBC
2) It is patronising for the women involved, who will be cursed with forever wondering if they were only picked because they don’t have a penis
3) Having poorer quality women only goes to reinforce attitudes that women can’t do these jobs in the first place

But equally, something has to be done, as the representation of women is woefully low in both of these areas. Just 2 solo female presenters of BBC local radio breakfast shows from all of them across the country? That is abysmal.

I suspect that figure is rather better than commercial radio manages though, but that is a whole different conversation.

And only 5 guests out of 38 and none of the regulars on Mock the Week were women.

Again, very poor. I know QI have attempted to redress this criticism with female only guests on several occasions, which have been no less entertaining or appealing to me. So maybe I am barking up the wrong tree and it IS a way to get things shifting in the right direction.

And quite frankly if Mock The Week put in a mediocre woman or two it’ll stop some of the mediocre men getting on the show. Which would be an improvement.

So onto the second issue and the Debenhams catalogue having a gorgeous curvy model, some non airbrushed saggy bits on other models and a couple of amputees.

The problem that I have with this is that they are all still gorgeous. The “reality” as it’s described still confirms to a rather narrow definition of traditional beauty and the cynical old hack that I am can’t help thinking they are doing this solely to generate talkabilty and therefore increase sales.

I was called “mean spirited” for expressing this. Perhaps so. Maybe I am just impatient. Debenhams have done this sort of thing before, making a big to-do about having “normal” shaped mannequins in their stores. Maybe this is part of an ethos change at the company, maybe it’ll last forever and change perceptions and everyone else will follow suit.

At the moment both the BBC and Debenhams seem to be engaged in tokenism for the sake of it rather than for affecting actual change.

Like I say, maybe it’s just the jaded hack speaking here and this is an unfounded concern and I’ll be made to eat my words.

Which I will be happy to do. Cos I really hope I am wrong.