Reacting to the news…

newspaper

Seeing his wife Monica fighting back the tears, Eric grabbed her by the ponytails and held her head gently. He’d been dying to get home ever since he’d heard the news. “Can you believe it Monica?” he whispered to her.

“I can’t,” Monica sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. “Ever since they made the announcement, the world just doesn’t seem real anymore.”

“How did you hear about it?” Eric asked. He couldn’t quite believe it himself. No one seemed happy by the news; no one had ever truly wanted such a thing to happen.

“In the canteen at work,” Monica replied. “I don’t know why it affected me so much, but I just had to come home.”

“I don’t blame you,” Eric mused. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this truly feels like the end of the world.” He held his face in his hands for a minute, before rubbing his eyes as he stared at his TV. There was nothing on, just a blank screen. “How do you think people will react?”

“There’ll be revolts up and down the country,” Monica replied without hesitation. “No shadow of a doubt. People won’t stand for it. No one ever thought it actually would happen in the first place. To be honest, I think it would be a good idea for us to stop doing anything until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Eric was on his feet now, pacing the room as if trying to diffuse some great bundle of energy inside him. “Perhaps…” he pondered, as though what he was trying to say was bold and daring, and he was hesitant to speak it. “Perhaps it might be a good thing. Change can be good for the world.”

“Not like this,” said Monica flatly. “This feels like the wrong kind of change to me. I mean, think what this could inspire within people. They see this happening, they suddenly think that their radical notions aren’t quite so radical anymore. Where do we go from there?”

“I don’t know what we’ll tell the kids,” sighed Eric. “Do well at school, by the book that binds us all… and for what reward? When something like this can happen?”

Monica gripped him by the hands and stared deep into her eyes. “Don’t worry my love,” he reassured her. “We’ll still teach them what is right. This won’t change them one bit.”

They both sat down and stared straight ahead, still taking it all in. “I still can’t believe it though,” Eric wandered aloud.

“Yeah. Whoever thought they’d reduce the size of Toblerone? What kind of world do we live in where such a thing is possible?”

“Whatever happens, we’ll always have the Quality Street. They can’t take that away from us.”

Hoping for a change of tone, Eric reached for the remote. On flicked the latest news.

“Holy shit,” he gasped.

“I can’t believe it,” Monica’s hands were covering her eyes.

“The John Lewis Christmas advert,” they said together.

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Working on the 24 Hour Broadcast for BBC Sussex

BBC Sussex towns

Take a moment to consider this point properly- who honestly doesn’t love a radio marathon? The highs of an on-air challenge and the lows of trying to stay awake during the early hours, it’s like a broadcasting roller-coaster that throws all the loops in at the start of the ride but leaves plenty of surprises for the rest of the journey.

I’ve been freelancing in BBC Local Radio for nearly two months now (something I honestly never thought I’d write), and what struck me initially was that from 7pm till 6am the next day, the South East stations switch to networked content (with the occasional exception)- i.e. programmes that are broadcasting on several, or in some cases all, BBC Local Radio stations. With that in mind, I was honoured to be asked to be part of BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey’s 24 Hour Broadcast, from 8AM on Thursday 21st April to the following day.

The celebration of 24 hours in Sussex and Surrey was tied in with the festivities to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday- journalists were out across the counties reporting on all manner of stories, including one lucky reporter who got to be a zookeeper at Drusillas in Alfriston and a producer who got to meet a remarkable woman sharing her birthday with Her Majesty. It was an enormous operation, with so much content being generated across the event that it was difficult knowing where to look next.

Even better was the chance to be part of the station’s online output, as I was one of the social media producers for the event. Given my past experience in managing social media accounts for student radio and a laser tag company, it was something that fitted my skill set while also encouraging me to explore how the content could operate as a distinctive, standalone platform that was in a league of its own, rather than just accompanying the on-air content.

Sitting at the back of the office alongside the station’s editorial team, my shift was an endless cycle of retweeting, sharing and scheduling content across both Sussex and Surrey. Depending on your attitude to social media that may sound like heaven or hell, but you’ll be glad to know it was the former for me! What was even more interesting from my position was being able to watch the producers working alongside the presenters, and watching the shows come together before your very eyes.

Of course, first and foremost it was a rare and distinctive experience for the listeners, but it was also a wonderful chance for the station’s team of producers, reporters and presenters to come together and be part of an exceptional event. Most of the members of staff I hadn’t met before, so it was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange stories of the radio industry. But more than anything, it reminded me that it’s the stories from the people within the remit of a local station that make it worth tuning into.

So all in all, a fantastic opportunity to fine tune my social media marketing skills (creating a gif of one of the reporters dancing was a highlight), and an important learning curve at the same time. Click here to listen to some of the highlights from the broadcast.

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Jack The Lad #6: End of the line for East Grinstead?

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After the news broke that East Grinstead train station could lose its ticket office, only three years after the extensive renovations were completed, I decided it was time to return to the East Grinstead Courier to air my thoughts. Have a read below and see what you think!

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If it’s estimated that over 2000 people use East Grinstead station every day, you think that would prescribe it a certain level of importance. But imagine there being absolutely no human interaction during that process: dull, grey boxes dispensing tickets to get you through stiff, stubborn barriers, before an android on wheels descends along the train making checks, like a cold, contentious C3PO.

Maybe I’m exaggerating things here, but cuts have a habit of sitting at the top of a slippery slope, and the speculation that East Grinstead may lose its ticket office has been greeted with the exact kind of negative retorts that you would expect.

Looking round the current site, you have to admit how immaculate it looks. And it should do, at a cost of £2.1 million. It’s been there just long enough for any memories of its decrepit former host to be banished from the minds of the many commuters who use it.

There was even a ceremony with the Town Mayor and our local MP present at its official opening in March 2013; it was seen as that much of an occasion, something to make a fuss about. So why is it, less than three years later, that there are talks of closing the ticket office? You might as well shut the whole station building; after all, why do these things in half measures?

Before you start to get really worried, if this were to actually happen it would not be for a long time. According to reports, the station has been listed in the third wave with the station to close outside of peak hours after a longer period of re-education, with a threat of eventual total closure of the office.

But given the size of the town and the station’s position at the end of its branch for the Oxted line, the fact that the idea is even being debated is utterly ludicrous. Sure, some of us aren’t always in the mood to talk to anyone else and appreciate the serene silence a self-service machine brings, but just picturing the prospect throws up all kinds of questions.

What about season tickets, renewing railcards, or even just a question that a machine cannot answer for you? And what if those ticket machines malfunction? It’s no good being an expert in pushing the right buttons if there aren’t any to push in the first place.

If anything, some people just like to have human interaction. You can just imagine swarms of perplexed customers piling into the Bluebell Railway office trying to renew their monthly passes, or the staff at Motown Coffee facing bemused commuters trying to jab “delay repay” forms in their faces.

Then again, you can certainly see why they’re doing it. We’re seeing more self-service checkouts at supermarkets every day, and banks are gradually encouraging us to become more machine-savvy. But you can afford a delay when you’re doing your weekly shopping; if a machine breaks down at a train station and there’s no kiosks, that’s rush hour chaos guaranteed, regardless of any cancellations.

At a time when half of Southern’s customers are unsatisfied with the franchise’s overall service, it’s hard to imagine this announcement having any kind of positive effect. The solution is simple: stop prioritizing profits over customer service, and stop trying to put us off public transport at a time when more of us should be using it.

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If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Check them out and subscribe! (please.)

Choosing ignorance over reality; why I won’t be reading “Go Set A Watchman”

The author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

The author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

Whenever a teacher forces you to do something in a lesson, you approach it with suspicion. Why would they make you do it, other than if they thought you wouldn’t want to do it in the first place? I remember being told that my GCSE English class would be reading To Kill A Mockingbird ahead of our exams- the only group in my year to be doing so, with Of Mice And Men and Lord Of The Flies being delegated to other groups. Warning signs were evident from the get go, and rumours flew along the tables of the grueling task that awaited us. Then of course I read it, and it turns out I need not have worried.

Saying To Kill A Mockingbird helped me to rediscover my love of reading might sound like some overused hyperbole, but its reputation shows that my opinion is not a lone voice. It wasn’t just the colourful cast of characters that entertained, inspired and intrigued in equal measure, with the mystery of Boo Radley still pervaded ominously throughout Tom Robinson’s trial. Nor was it just how vivid the setting was bought to life, acting as a key factor for particular scenes (such as the jail house) rather than just a backdrop. It was the message of peace, tolerance and acceptance that permeated each page and helped me to fully appreciate the power of literature. Understandably, it has bought its author Harper Lee acclaim and praise of the highest order- all of which has been somewhat tarnished with the release of its follow up, Go Set A Watchman.

But is it really a sequel? Maybe an appendix would be a more appropriate title, given how many have described it as a series of anecdotes and ideas bound together. This is just one of numerous concerns I have regarding the novel’s publication, fifty five years after the original book. Why has it taken all this time, considering she has consistently vowed never to write another book, and that this new book is based on a manuscript that was previously rejected? These questions were enough for me to distance myself from it, and I didn’t think anything of it until some further details emerged regarding one of the book’s central characters.

Atticus Finch is arguably one of the best characters in literature. A beam of positive spirit, greeting everyone with a gentle smile regardless of their background, his direction in life was always towards what was right- not just for his family, but society in general. In To Kill A Mockingbird, he is gentle but firm, calm yet decisive; peaceful, yet commanding a sense of respect and understanding. His attitude wasn’t just demonstrating how we should act; it was demonstrating why we should act in this way. Given the character’s legacy, it was all the more shocking to hear of his transformation in Go Set A Watchmen, where an elderly stubborn Atticus now shares views that are more in line with some of his fellow citizens in the original novel; in other words, a racist.

Now, authors, musicians, filmmakers, anyone creative for that matter, can create a stone cold classic and then stumble on the follow up; hence why “the difficult second album” has become such a common expression among bands. However, this is usually not such a problematic issue because it usually concerns an entirely different piece of work; the acclaimed status of the previous piece remains. Yet here, a classic character of literature has been twisted and warped into a shadow of what he once was. Even his original incarnation is harder to aspire to when you have the full picture in mind.

Thankfully, I see a way out of this, where I can avoid the new incarnation of Atticus Finch from ruining my perception of the character from the original novel. It may not be a popular path of action, and one that I would usually scorn as hopeless and narrow minded, but there are always exceptions to rules. So what is my master stroke? Not reading it altogether. Avoiding the backlash online might be a bit trickier, but if I consciously choose to feign ignorance, my original memories will not be affected; or in any case, the least amount of damage will be done.

Granted, I may be running away from the issue rather than resolving it altogether, and above all Go Set A Watchman may present a series of events more akin to reality; a collection of hard truths that some hastily brush under the carpet when in the public view. I certainly can’t just shrug my shoulders and bemoan “Oh, it’s just a book.” By that same logic, none of the themes present within To Kill A Mockingbird would matter- and though some of the frantic scribbles of analysis may have been instigated by my teachers, the messages still seem clear as ever now.

Personally, I would like to continue to aspire to a figure that champions racial equality and therefore equality in general, so I am determined that my own perception of Atticus Finch will remain as it has been for so many years. It is not as if he is a real person that has suffered a fall from grace; as a character, each reader’s perception of Atticus Finch is a result of their own individual interpretation of him, regardless of how many may share it, and it exists firmly in our imaginations. I was forced to read To Kill A Mockingbird and its impact has yet to fade. Now, with my own choice in the matter, Go Set A Watchman has no place in my mind.

Jack The Lad #3: Savouring the sight of St Swithuns

Always a proud moment

Always a proud moment

My latest column for my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier, looks at the importance of moving a town forward while maintaining its identity- in particular the architecture that defines it.

Can you imagine the news of a familiar locale being torn down to make way for yet more property no longer provoking a reaction? Yet sadly, as such announcements become the daily norm, it is hardly surprising that the reaction has dried up and stagnated.

The Wallis Centre? The Parish Halls? The Rose and Crown? Going, going, and gone before you know it. Outrage becomes grumbling, before grumbling becomes roll of the eyes. Such developments are now taken for granted as part of modern life in East Grinstead.

But one recent proposal particularly caught my attention because of how it concerns our beloved St Swithuns. The proposal would see a property in Cantelupe Road extended vertically, with five new apartments on top. The nagging issue?  The town council is worried it would obscure views of the church.

There’s no denying that as the population expands, so must East Grinstead, and the town’s future will always be an important issue, but as soon as money is on the table, new plans take priority and charge ahead, leaving behind the cherished architecture that defines the town. But can you imagine having the view to such a prominent piece of the town’s fabric blocked by a wannabe skyscraper?

I’m lucky that I can always catch a glimpse of the almighty spire of St Swithun’s from my bedroom; though the church spires are merely a speck in the distance, it is still a beautiful sight to behold. Whether you’re part of the congregation or not, there is no denying that it remains a prominent part of the town’s character.

The town’s development needs to be in a way that does not fragment the overall identity of East Grinstead; that is what keeps people in the area after all. You can start off with the derelict houses dotted about the town’s estates; I passed a ghastly site on Grosvenor Road in Gardenwood the other day that could easily be turned into two apartments. Or what about the old wool shop on Green Hedges Avenue, sold last year but seemingly forgotten?

The big question is, if Cantelupe Road gets the thumbs up, what’s to say more applications won’t be pushed through? Before we know it, St Swithuns could be cowering in the shadows of stocky, monotonous monoliths, heralding a new age where you hear church bells and have no idea where they are coming from.

Such a sight is common in the capital or any city for that matter; but we are not a city. We’re East Grinstead, a small town that basks in the rays of an impressive history. If you keep hacking away at it, it will all seep out, and you’ll be left with just another small town.

Thankfully, the council rejected the proposal, but now the idea is out in the open, what’s to say that I won’t resurface? We moan enough about all manner things in our town as it is; therefore, we should do all we can to nurture the few strands of it we still admire and cherish.

Merriment on Meridian

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Just a quick post ahead of today and tomorrow’s escapades!

I’ve got a lot of love for my town’s community station, Meridian FM. When I first joined back in 2013 it was teetering on the edge, desperately clinging on for life as it fought against the odds. Now, the station is thriving, with more members and listeners than ever before, and as the station has now overhauled the play-out system, it truly feels like Meridian is moving forward, step by step.

I’m covering the drive show today from 3 till 6, talking to Kathleen Shuster from local amateur theatre company Rising Stars about their latest production Sweet Charity, which opens tonight at Chequer Mead. I’ll also have all the latest local news, weather and travel updates.

Tomorrow, I’m doing my own specialist show from 6 till 8, playing a mixture of more intimate and laid back sounds- from acoustic to electronic and R’n’B, new releases and old. Your favourite new song could be hidden away in the track listing, you never know!

Listen live in East Grinstead and the surrounding areas on 107 FM or via meridianfm.com