Monthly Archives: December 2012

What are you waiting for?

Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) is an interesting interlude in the church year. It’s a period of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s first appearance, and it’s also a reminder to be aware that any of us may be confronted with meeting him again, at any time.  Like Lent, it’s a solemn time of penitence, but tinged with a sense of anticipation.

But mainly it’s about waiting – something we are generally not very good at these days.  Our vicar’s recent sermon along these lines made me think about what I’m waiting for, and realise, again, the importance of living in the present moment, however frustrating that may be, rather than either wishing the time away until the hoped-for event happens, or dwelling on past glories and set-backs.

My current ‘waiting list’ includes:

  • the return of our daughter from four months’ study in Canada
  • the arrival of the rest of the family for Christmas week
  • responses to emails
  • the credit card bill
  • the right weather to entice me into a mass of overdue garden jobs
  • the safe arrival of two new grandchildren early next year
  • being in the right mood to tackle physical and computer-based de-cluttering
  • the midnight service on Christmas Eve
  • parcel deliveries
  • the next series of Borgen, or The Bridge, now that The Killing III is over
  • the monthly Premium Bond draw
  • the Church of England to get its act together conerning women bishops
  • inspiration for the next blog

Whatever you’re waiting for, I hope the good stuff happens for you and that 2013 brings plenty of unexpected pleasures too.

Merry Christmas!

Gearwheels and clock parts

The end of anonimity

It’s the corollary of ‘you wouldn’t think it could happen in a town like ours’: from now until forever that place we’ve never heard of before is a name the whole world recognises.  Dunblane, Hungerford, Colombine, Aurora, Utoya, …… Newtown.

From here on there will be too many words about Newtown, Connecticut. Too many sound bites, too many repetitions of the interviews with kindergarten kids describing sights and sounds that are too old for them.  There will be politicking, there will be lessons to learn, and probably not act upon. The media circus will roll on, eventually, and international shock and bewilderment will shrink to leave just the families’ interminable emptiness where a child should be – in Newtown, Connecticut.

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Leveson foreshadowed

Curiously enough, a colleague and I spent over ten years up to early 2012 regulating the UK media. We headed up an organisation called the Office for the Regulation of the Media, otherwise known as OFTROM.

There were two policy directorates which dealt respectively with press and broadcast media standards, a media complaints directorate, and corporate services. My role as Director of Media Complaints was to oversee teams of caseworkers who investigated complaints about press intrusion submitted by individuals. Once the evidence about each complaint had been assembled to confirm its validity, the file went to the Media Complaints Board which made a ruling as to compensation. The Board met twice a month and consisted of media representatives and OFTROM members. If the media organisation didn’t comply with an OFTROM ruling, the individual had to resort to taking them to court, but that was a less certain and more costly route for both parties.

In practice, OFTROM wasn’t really very good. We were over-staffed, badly structured, stuck in three locations across London and not making best use of new technology. We were also much reviled by the media industry, of course, so every problem was magnified in the eyes of the public.

The Leveson inquiry came upon us as a serious case of life imitating art and we wondered if, just in order to save everyone a good deal of time and money, we should submit our consulting skills role play scenario (created at the now defunct National School of Government) as evidence.

As Media Complaints Director, I enjoyed grappling with the balance between public interest and press intrusion, and it was interesting to contemplate how the dividing line between the two had changed over time. It was obvious that what was an acceptable press story in 2012 would not have been tolerated in the 1950s. Whether that shift is a good thing – progress – is a matter of debate. Although it would be hard to argue for a return to the time when Edward VIII’s liaison with Mrs Simpson was kept out of the British press until his abdication, the current obsession with celebrity trivia is equally distasteful. The public interest is not the same thing as what the public is interested in.

What also became clear during the OFTROM years was that it was impossible for the regulator to keep up with the impact of the internet.  When OFTROM was invented, the news arrived on paper or via radio and television. By the time of its demise, the distinction between one medium or another was irrelevant.

This is a point well-made by Hugo Rifkind in his recent article in the Times. Of course Hugo’s article sits behind a paywall and you won’t be able to read it unless you subscribe to The Times, one way or another.  But if there is going to be any real and valid journalism in the future it will have to be paid for somehow.

The rest of us are just typing.

office machines,Photographs,typewriters

Enough really is enough

It starts around the middle of October, that notion in the back of your mind that there’s something you ought to be getting on with.  The volume level gradually increases as November begins until finally the urgency of  the message is unmistakable.  It’s time for the Christmas shopping.  There’s a deadline coming and if you don’t get the job done we will all be sitting round on Christmas Day – empty-handed?  Or everyone else will be distributing beautifully wrapped, carefully chosen gifts, and I won’t have anything to offer because December 25 took me by surprise.

The stress of it is out of all proportion – or is it just me who frets as to whether we’ve bought the perfect present for loved ones, and whether it’s somehow ‘enough’?

Anyway, this year, just as the anxiety began to set in, I actually broached the subject with the immediate family.  There was a sigh of relief all round.    If money were no object, it would be easy to skim through the luscious John Lewis Christmas catalogue and tick off the list.   But there are grand-babies due in early 2013 and parenthood will soak up any disposable income our kids may have, and one way or another we are all in the squeezed middle.

So we have agreed a really low spending limit per head.  It’s better to get one thing that is just right, or just amusing, whatever.  And once these items have been found, that’s it.  No more worrying about equity and fairness.  No more arms race.  We have of course made an exception for the under-18s and the poverty-stricken student.

Alternatively, among my siblings, we have agreed just to stop altogether.  We are all middle-aged; we have, generally, all the ‘stuff’ we want or need.  If someone has a hobby or enthusiasm they will get what they want, when they want it.  Second guessing in these cases is useless, and I’ve always disliked exchanging lists – it’s gruesome, and not in the right spirit at all, although subtle hints are just about OK.

We’ll see  how it goes – maybe Christmas Day will be too much as though chez Cratchit.  But I don’t think so.  If I’m not stressing about gifts I shall have all the more time to get ahead, as they say, with the sumptuous meals.  The capon with its stuffing, the renowned roast potatoes (learned at my father’s knee), a chocolate torte, a fish pie, maybe a pot-roast for one of the in-between days.   Surely a tagine with my Moroccan daughter-in-law.  Or what about that pavlova from delicious. magazine?

Merry Christmas!