A Little HomeMade Love

With many tears and much hugging yesterday, I said goodbye to my talented, fun, and completely awesome-asaurus colleagues at HomeMade Digital, after 2 fabulous years with them.

It has been my absolute privilege to have worked with such an amazing group of people, who are more like family than friends or colleagues. Sounds cheesy and clichéd (because it is), but it’s also true.

During my time there, I’ve had the chance to work on some truly inspiring projects, for people like Christian Aid, Comic Relief, the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, the UN High Commission for Refugees, the new economics foundation (nef), Kids Help Phone, Pa Pa Paa, InspirAction, UKSIF’s National Ethical Investment Week – the list is extensive, and relentless in its aspiration to change the society in which we, and those in developing nations, live.

It has been the best job I’ve ever had (even working the night shift in a frozen pizza factory doesn’t come close).

I am indebted to each and every individual at HomeMade, both past and present, who have all helped me learn, supported me in difficult times, and made me laugh out loud so many many times. Were it not for them, I would never have found out where north is. Nor would I have virtually climbed the highest mountain in the world, or discovered that bacon frazzles don’t actually contain any meat of any kind.

I wish the team all the luck in the world for the future – even though they won’t need it – and much prosperity for themselves, and for the clients clever enough to work with them.

As for me, I’ll be heading to Dare Digital to head up the Dare West studio in Bristol, where I am sure I will have the chance to make new friends, get all sorts of new experiences, and help a new set of exciting clients achieve their goals too.

© Crista Freeman

Au revoir, mes amis, it has been wonderful.

The Unsung Heroes of the UN

The UNHCR is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?! They are, largely, the unsung heroes of the UN, taking a back seat  to the other, better known charitable arms such as UNICEF (kids) and the UNHRC (human rights), as well as the high profile humanitarian relief offered by the World Food Programme.

However, their low public profile belies the amazing work that they do the world over. They work in 120 countries, supporting 34 million refugees. That’s a vast figure – to put it into context, it’s the combined populations of Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and New Zealand.

As with all charities, they rely on public funds to keep their work going – they receive very little state funding at all, so it’s the contributions of those who care enough to give that keep them going.

2 million of the 34 million refugees they care for are in Somalia alone. If you wanted to fill Wembley Stadium 22 times over, that’s how many people you’d need. Just like the crowd at Wembley – those 2 million people are all individuals who have stories to tell, families and friends. They just need a little help to deal with the worst the world can throw at them. And the UNHCR is there to do it.

Their work is hard, but unquestionably necessary.

If the populations of Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and New Zealand were forced to flee their homes, the UNHCR would be there to care for them.

The figures are huge because the problem is huge. However small amounts can make a big difference:

A generous $200 buys a tent to shelter 5 refugees.

A valuable $100 buys a survival kit for a refugee family, including a camping stove and blankets.

And just $20 buys 5 much needed blankets, to protect refugees from the bitter cold many of them face.

So – you – YES! YOU! – can do the right thing, right now, and make a huge difference to an organisation supporting people who literally have nothing.

Click this link, and give $10 using UNHCR’s trusted provider, Causes: https://www.causes.com/fb/donations/new?ts=1256912629&cause_id=175802

Once you have done it, tell your friends and bully, cajole, guilt and blackmail them into giving $10 too. Simples 😉

(You can find out more about the Gimme Shelter campaign here – www.givethemshelter.org – where you can also read the stories of some of the refugees supported by the UNHCR.)

UNHCR

© UNHCR/ A. Webster

Why there is nothing natural about Jan Moir

Really I should thank Jan Moir. I’ve been looking for a reason to have a bit of a rant and post a new tirade on here, and her disgraceful and embarrassing article posted today on the Daily Mail site is the perfect excuse to let off some steam.

© Daily Mail

© Daily Mail

There are so so many things wrong with it, that it seems only fair to address them point by point, just in case she feels that I have missed anything out or not done justice to her vitriolic ramblings by skipping over any of them.

Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney; we all know who they are. And we are not being ghoulish to anticipate, or to be mentally braced for, their bad end: a long night, a mysterious stranger, an odd set of circumstances that herald a sudden death.’

To be honest, Jan, I’m not mentally braced for a bad end for any celebrity. Mostly because I have better things to do with my time than sit here and worry about what Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney or Britney might be doing at any given hour of the day or night. I can see though, that if all I had to do with my life was sit and write bullshit to peddle to fat, right wing, bigots, then yes, I might have a bit more time for this.

‘In the morning, a body has already turned cold before the first concerned hand reaches out to touch an icy celebrity shoulder. It is not exactly a new storyline, is it?’

It’s not a ‘storyline’ at all Jan. It’s the death of someone’s mother, father, brother, son, uncle, nephew that you’re talking about. Not the latest cliffhanger on a Friday night episode of EastEnders before the ‘dum dum dum dums’ and a shot of the Thames comes up on screen.

In the cheerful environs of Boyzone, Gately was always charming, cute, polite and funny.’

I suspect that that’s because he was charming, cute, polite and funny. Which are 4 words that no one need ever worry about shoe-horning in to your obituary, are they Jan?

‘Gately came out as gay in 1999 after discovering that someone was planning to sell a story revealing his sexuality to a newspaper. Although he was effectively smoked out of the closet, he has been hailed as a champion of gay rights, albeit a reluctant one.’

Gosh, I wonder what paper that might have been? Perhaps one that routinely denounces gay marriage, and happily pays for drivel written (for written, read ‘sold’) by an ex-hairdresser’s cousin’s binman who may once have walked down the opposite side of the road to someone who vaguely resembled the celebrity being ‘written’ about.

‘At the time, Gately worried that the revelations might end his ultra-mainstream career as a pin-up, but he received an overwhelmingly positive response from fans. In fact, it only made them love him more.’

Jan, you seem genuinely surprised that people should not have forced him into exile in a foreign land at his vile and unnatural revelations! Which, no doubt, he would have been, if it had been up to you and your Mail cohorts. Heaven forbid that people would accept him for who he is, and let him get on with living his private life happily, and in private. I suspect you would have been more comfortable and willing to forgive him if he’d announced that he was actually Jack the Ripper than a happy, successful, monogamous gay man.

‘All the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances. The Gately family are – perhaps understandably – keen to register their boy’s demise on the national consciousness as nothing more than a tragic accident… Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered… A post-mortem revealed Stephen died from acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs.’

No ‘perhaps’ about it Jan – why on earth would any family want their loved one’s death debated in all its gory detail in this way, whether it was an accident or not?! Oh, and if I can just point out – you have actually managed to say that you don’t know how he died, that the cause of death was not a natural one, and then what the post-mortem showed the cause of death to be, in no more than 4 sentences. Help out here Jan, am I missing something?! Or are you basically just counting on the fact that there’s a big picture separating the line ‘Whatever the cause of death is, it’s not a natural one’ from the line ‘A post-mortem revealed Stephen died from fluid on his lungs’ and that in the intervening period of having scroll down 420 pixels that your readers will have forgotten the bile spurted before the images and be ready for a whole new bucket of it, completely contradictory to the first one, afterwards?

‘After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.’

I think it’s completely disrespectful to assume that, Jan. If they’d been a straight couple and had gone back with a single male friend after a night out together, would canasta be on the cards then? Or if they were two single males, who’d gone home with a 3rd single male friend after that same night out, then would canasta be OK? Your bigotry makes me physically shake with anger Jan, and that’s inconvenient, as I’ve still got a lot more to write.

‘Gately’s family have always maintained that drugs were not involved in the singer’s death, but it has just been revealed that he at least smoked cannabis on the night he died. Nevertheless, his mother is still insisting that her son died from a previously undetected heart condition that has plagued the family.’

They didn’t say he hadn’t smoked some weed – they said drugs weren’t involved in his death. Which is exactly what you’ve written. I doff my cap, Jan, you are a maestro at writing the facts in such a way that makes them appear to be the opposite of what they are. I guess the many years you have spent spinning stories from nothing on the back of a fag packet will build that skill. And in fairness, your readership aren’t exactly the type to engage in an intellectual debate about the accuracy or otherwise of your ‘reporting’. Your complete lack of compassion and disregard for his mother’s feelings is also outstanding. Well done you.

‘Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.’

WOAH there Jan. What on earth has Stephen Gately’s death got to do with the sanctity of civil partnerships?! And really – even if you can wiggle out of that little homophobic jibe – what has his sad and untimely death got to do with either George Michael or Kevin McGee?? Good lord woman, I genuinely don’t quite know where to start on this. What, pray tell, has the sad suicide of one gay man got to do with the – by all accounts natural – death of another gay man, in another country, on a different day? Really Jan, you’re making me swear now. For fuck’s sake. When Keith Floyd and Patrick Swayze passed away, were you troubling yourself with what this meant for white men with receding hairlines the world over? Nope, didn’t think so. Somehow in your little, twisted mind the fact that they had the same sexuality in life means that their deaths are somehow connected? Please.

‘It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.’

Why? Because you’re a nosy bitch?

‘As a gay rights champion, I am sure he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine. For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.’

Oh the irony of someone as small-minded and hypocritical as you preaching about role models makes me chuckle. See, there you go again making a drama out of someone else’s loss and pain – there’s absolutely nothing to suggest his life was lived dangerously, or ‘oozed’ anything. The only ooze I can see is that greeny slimey one left by your knuckles dragging along the floor.

I mean, really? This is journalism?! You make me ashamed to be a woman, Jan Moir. And worried – as a woman, with brunette hair, I’m desperately concerned that our lives are somehow identical, that are deaths will be forever intertwined, and that I might end up as fat, stupid, homophobic and utterly ridiculous as you.

Oh no wait, I have a brain, and friends, and a heart. I think I’ll be OK.

Nothing Lasts Forever

An article published today on The Guardian site declares that ‘Facebook is done’. I tend to agree. I assume that I’m pretty much Facebook’s target market: in my 20s, with some disposable income, web-savvy and all the other shit that makes me appealing to those oh-so-lucrative advertisers.

The trouble is, I’ve stopped using it. It’s moved from being a space where it was cool to catch up with people I haven’t seen for years, without having to make the commitment of giving them my mobile number, to a space where only the people I accepted as friends because it felt too rude not to are doing or saying anything. This makes my desire to log in and make the effort to do anything in that space pretty much non-exisistent.

For me, it started with the change of the news feed to the status stream that it is now. Personally, I think Facebook misconstrued the meaning and success of twitter here. The delight of twitter is that I can read a stream of thoughts, messages, interesting links and other titbits from people who I don’t know, who I probably will never know, and who don’t know me. It opens up my world from a closed community to a vast sphere of influence, that I can dip in and out of as I choose. The fundamental principle of Facebook, however, is that it connects you to people you already know. Just because I know them, doesn’t mean I want to know what they’re doing, reading, or thinking every second of the day.

In twitter, I can head out of the realms of the people I’m following and go search for tags, trending topics, or names. In Facebook, I can’t do that. I’m locked down to reading a constant flow of mundane garbage from someone I might have sat 2 desks down from in Science lessons 15 years ago.

As Phoebe Connelly rightly says in her Guardian article though, the next big thing is always round the corner. What strikes me is the pervading sense of surprise across the web – and sometimes even into mainstream media – when something that was cool online becomes, well, uncool.

No one was surprised when Channel 4 announced in August that they were canning Big Brother. Something that was cool on TV 10 years ago, no longer is. Similarly, books don’t stay at the top of the bestseller list forever, and the number 1 selling toy at Christmas one year is highly unlikely to be the same the following year.

Even Vanilla Ice was cool once

Even Vanilla Ice was cool once

Tastes, fashion, budgets, and interests change – and why wouldn’t those changes apply to our online world any less than to our offline world? OK, so we might not pay cold hard cash for our online habits like a Facebook account or news consumption, but we do pay in time and effort. And if we don’t feel like we’re getting our money’s worth, then we’ll head off somewhere else. It’s just human nature, isn’t it?

Putting the ‘social’ into social media

A recent article from the BBC saying that ‘40% of the messages sent via [twitter] are “pointless babble” put me in mind of a post I wrote a while ago for the lovely HomeMade Digital.

The below is an extract of that – with some extras thrown in for good measure…

The beauty of Twitter is that it’s an opt in society. If you don’t like it, don’t come. And if you don’t like how or what someone tweets, don’t follow them. This principle means that the businesses, charities and individuals who are tweeting for the sake of it, or are tweeting irrelevant drivel, will very quickly find it’s just not worth it; there won’t be the followers to justify it.

Aside from this though, during my trawl through the somewhat incestuous world of blogs about Twitter (trackbacks, click throughs, hat tips, head nods and the like make it a giddy rollercoaster of 6 degrees of geek separation at times) I noticed a common theme. To whit, that new Twitterers should start off by tweeting about themselves, while they ‘get used to it’, but that they should quickly progress to tweeting about more ‘interesting’ things if they want to survive.

Now, here’s the thing – and it comes back to that fundamental principle of an opt in society. Or, as I prefer to call it, Mary Whitehouse Syndrome. If you don’t like it, don’t watch. But don’t tell other people what they can and can’t watch, and don’t tell the producers what they should and shouldn’t make.

© herdarkmistress

© herdarkmistress

People engaging with social media should be able to engage with it in any way they like; if they want to set up a TwitterFeed from their fridge door, so that every time they eat something it’s automatically posted on Twitter, let them get on with it. It’s not our place to mock or ridicule them for that, just don’t follow them if you don’t want to know the minute they begin to make a ham and mustard roll.

Another way to look at it is this… When my friends in the real world (yes, I do have some) come round, I’m not expected to spend the evening churning out a constant stream of interesting things I’ve watched, read, listened to, or otherwise consumed in some digital way. Part of the conversation I have with them will certainly be about that, particularly if Hollyoaks has delivered yet another ‘oh my god’ storyline that week, but it won’t be the whole conversation. I’ll also tell them about what I’ve been up to at work, maybe what I had for tea, how I’m feeling, and other banal details of my life.

That’s what makes them my friends. And that’s what makes seeing them social.

According to the BBC, the study found that only 8.7% of messages could be said to have “value” as they passed along news of interest. I think they’ve missed a fundamental point here, which is that the beauty of twitter is its ability – through hashtags and search – to bring together disparate and unknown individuals around a common cause, hobby, or news event. I tweet about all sorts – what is babble to some will be of ‘pass along’ value to others, and even if they don’t pass it along, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to them as individuals.

If half as much effort went in to a project that took the vast numbers of people valiantly defending the NHS, protesting at elections in Iran, or sharing their love of tea in twitter, and brought those numbers and that passion into a world where policy makers and corporations couldn’t dismiss it as ‘babble’ – then we would be getting somewhere.

Then we would have the chance to take the ‘social’ parts of social media, and reuse it as social change. And that really would be worth studying.

The Price of Manners

I started my last post with a little homily and this one is going to start the same way. This time, however, it’s a little motto my mother, granny, or indeed anyone above the age of 50 has said to me at some point, and it’s this:

Your manners cost you nothing

I believe in this, and live by it – I always say please and thank you, I especially make sure to thank a host for having me, and I hold the door open for someone walking through it behind me. What a nice, polite girl I am.

© dj denim

© dj denim

I’ve noticed recently though that these manners aren’t always returned. Not just in the real world, but in the virtual one too. Increasing numbers of emails I get fail to ask me how I am, enquire as to my weekend, or end with even the most cursory of sign-offs. (I’m not looking for much here, but ending an email with ‘Thanks’, ‘Regards’, ‘Best wishes’ or, if you’re really feeling generous ‘Kind regards’ is really just basic politeness, is it not?)

And it’s not just how you start and end an email either. It’s the bit in between. It now seems acceptable to litter an email with capital letters – presumably just in case you weren’t paying attention enough already – or issue a list of instructions, demands, or accusations with little regard to how the recipient might feel when reading this missive.

I got to wondering why this might be. And I realised this: I think it’s because entire relationships can now exist in a virtual, written world. There is no need to actually have to talk to anyone anymore – both on the phone and, perish the thought!, face to face. It makes it much easier to dehumanise the relationship, and not think about the recipient as a person. People who wouldn’t say boo to a goose on the angriest day of the year will happily tell it to SORT IT OUT on an email. (That, by the way, is the entire contents of one email I received not so long ago. Nice.) Someone who at a conference sits at the back, never asks a question or talks to anyone else for the duration of the event, will feel entirely at ease emailing a distribution list of 30 people (most of whom they don’t even know) and telling them everything that’s wrong with the latest version of the document/page/product they have been shown, with no attempt  to balance, encourage or show appreciation of the work done to date.

These things, it seems to me, aren’t even to do with maintaining strong working relationships, building bridges, or sharing a journey together (or any other wanky phrase currently residing in your CV under ‘Key Skills’). They are basic manners that should exist between human beings no matter what their role, position or employer.

And, for the most part, they are free. The highest price you might pay is a little bit of time to ask how the baby/dog/weather is, or the effort of taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before starting out on a punctuationless, un-spell checked rant.

Manners = respect, and without that, what’s the point of anything else?

6 Ways To Save My Sanity

Patience is a virtue, apparently. Google ‘patience: definition‘ and the first result returned is thus:

‘good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence’

I admire people who have a lot of patience and tolerance – good-natured or otherwise. Try as I might, I cannot summon much from the depths of my deepest self. So, instead, I thought I would publish some tips on how other people can help me – perhaps this tolerance thing can work both ways…

© Martin Deutsch

© Martin Deutsch

This, therefore, is a collection of pointers that would help me get through life that little bit quicker…

1) Please don’t queue to use a cash point, and only at the time you are standing in front of the cash point you have spent 20 minutes queuing for, decide to hunt around in your purse the size of a washbag for your cash card. You have had 20 minutes to prepare – did you not know what you were queuing for? Was it a surprise to you when you arrived at the cash point that you would need a card to withdraw your money from it?

2) If you’re going to stand around in a massive group where the number of wheelie bags and children exc exceeds the number of adults by a ratio of 4:1, please don’t do it in any of the following places:

  • At the stop of the staircase on the way out of a tube station
  • In the busiest doorway you can find
  • In the middle of the pavement
  • At a busy pedestrian crossing (which you have no intention of using)

3) If you and all of your friends want to buy a £1.25 Lotto scratchcard each, fine. Nominate one person to buy them all with a tenner and sort it out amongst yourselves afterwards. Don’t nominate one person to go and buy 8 separate scratchcards with 8 different sets of £1.25, made up of varying amounts of coppers, 5p pieces and bits of chewing gum you’ve flattened down to look like a very old 20p

4) When you get off the tube, you will need your ticket or an Oyster Card to get through the barriers. They give you a bit of a hint by making you go through barriers at the start of your journey, so please don’t be surprised when you have to do it when you ‘alight’ too. Have your ticket ready. In fact, if it’s a short journey, just don’t put it away – keep it in your hand from one station to the next. How hard can it possibly be to lose something walking down an escalator, standing up for a bit, and then walking up an escalator?

5) A tip: If you’re waiting at a red traffic light, it will go green again at some point. Be prepared for that – have your hand on the handbrake, perhaps, or maybe don’t even worry about the handbrake at all… There is, after all, a perfectly serviceable foot brake designed for just such an occasion when you need to be stationary for a short period of time. As a general rule of thumb, you will not be able to change the CD/radio station, light a fag, turn round to shout at the kids and wolf-whistle at a 13 year old girl walking down the street in an average traffic light stop. Also, watching the traffic lights themselves can often help in knowing when they have changed

6) When out shopping, please don’t be too polite to say ‘yes’ when the checkout person asks you if you want someone to help you with your packing. It’s what packers are there to do. Don’t deny them their packing opportunities. Especially if you have £130 worth of Tesco Value products, 2 children who only stop screaming long enough to shove a few more Giant Buttons into their fat little faces, and one arm in a sling. You will not get your packing done in a respectable and non-cardiac arrest inducing amount of time for everyone else in the queue