Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Good news day

Ok, so today might as well go down in history as "torrential Tuesday" with rain pouring from the sky at almost the same rate government treasury departments across the globe hemorrhaged cash reserves - but at least it was a good day for Michael Jackson.

AFP took a break from updating us on our headlong fall into the financial abyss to bring us the news;
"MIT scientists move closer to 'artificial noses'"

That's right folks, Wacko Jacko could be sporting a new schnoz before you know it - what's not to love about that?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Bargain hunt

Bootle was a bleary eyed car boot - we were parked up and unpacking our tat by 7.05am.

And by 7.10am the vultures were circling Portia and me as the old hands took one look and realised we were first timers.

Bizarrely, the dress maker's mannequin was the first to go for a respectable £4, swiftly followed by Portia's Royal Dalton Schnauzer dog statue - I know, how could she - for a massive £5.

The dog turned out to be the day's big money, along with a pair of hockey sticks that we sold for £6 to a silent man who wouldn't look us in the eye.

After that we did a brisk trade in wind chimes (£1, frankly as the wind was starting to pick up I'd have PAID someone to take them away), bean bags, bangles and bobble hats.

Next door the bloke painting signs to order was doing a roaring trade - we particularly liked the charming "Dirty Nellie's Knocking Shop". Classy.

Opposite a pair of dodgy matching mullets were selling knock off perfume, I would have shared the image with you all, but Portia wouldn't let me sneak a pic on the grounds that they'd beat us up. She had a point - both Mr and Mrs Rough were wearing matching black leather jackets.

Then we met Bette and her friend, who bought four rolls of pink wallpaper for 80p:
Friend: "Bette will this pink do me downstairs loo?"
Bette: "Ohhhh, like a marvel."

Not everyone was so appreciative - I sold a sports bag to a bloke and said brightly, "you can put your shopping in that now" - to which he replied, "nah queen, I'm gonna put the rubbish in me car in it."

Despite drawing many admirers, the fetching blue and silver Italian leather wedges failed to find a new owner, along with the ski outfit. With hindsight I should maybe have realised that winter sports equipment wouldn't be a big hit in Bootle.

But then who knew that the Schnauzer would be such a success? Today taught me that there really is no telling what people will buy - or what they'll sell.

Our neighbour on the other side swiftly sold off all his stock, then took £500 in cash for his car and walked off.

We came in a bit short of that - making £75 between us, £40 of which was mine and has now been added to the Great North Run fund for Get Kids Going. That, along with generous donations from two good friends, Alan and Catherine, means I'm halfway to my £200 target.

I'm absolutely knackered now, but actually feeling quite pleased with myself: It's far too much work for £40, but it was fun.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Filling our boots at the big Bootle car boot sale

Typewriter: Check.
Anthology of 101 School Assemblies: Check.
Cocktail kit circa 1970: Check.
Dress maker's mannequin: Check.
VHS videos of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Ghost Busters: Check.
Crime against fashion neon all-in-one ski outfit: Check.

These are just some of the highlights of tomorrow's Bootle car boot sale.

An old friend and I are joining forces to get rid of our tat as we take on the bargain hunters of the North West, in what claims to be the region's biggest boot sale.

The pitch is setting us back £9, and in the unlikely event that we make a profit the money's going to the charity that I'm doing the Great North Run for next week - Get Kids Going.

It's a great cause which does a really good job helping disabled kids to get the best out of life, so if you can spare a few quid here's the link: http://www.justgiving.com/laurajones20

Having had to face up to the sheer volume of crap I've acquired over the years, I'm now of the opinion minimalism is the way forward.

Frankly, if anyone pays good money for that ski outfit (with matching bobble hat) I will struggle to keep a straight face and will be forced to inform the style police immediately.

I'll blog the grand total raised tomorrow, along with some pics of our exploits.

It's a 6.00am start in the morning - who needs sleep?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Rocking out

********The Soundtrack to this post********

You know times are hard when rappers and R'n'B divas are selling up their bling to make a buck.

The day after the world's biggest diamond was mined in Africa, news breaks that a US auction of hip hop bling has caused such a stir that its date has been postponed while experts catalogue the full gaudy array.

Naturally, all the papers went for it as a picture story: http://tinyurl.com/3g53ug

One angle, though, was left unexplored: Much was made of the cultural significance of the sale in terms of hip hop's standing as an art movement.

The Guardian couldn't help itself and dropped in a mention of "Smithsonian Institution's fledgling hip-hop archive".

So, if hip hop is now high art, and there are real collectors who are planning to pay tens of thousands for the bling rings about to go under the hammer, does this mean in years to come Michael Aspel and Eric Knowles will be pondering the value of the crown ring belonging to the late Tupac Shakur on the Antiques Road Show?

I do hope so.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Palin' into insignificance

Reading about Tzipi Livni, the woman who looks likely to become the next Israeli Prime Minister, makes me cringe for Sarah Palin.

The former Mossad spy, Livni, has earned her stripes and is the front runner in the political contest because people think she could run a country, not just win the votes to: Some American's will be shocked to learn that there is a difference.

Her reputation isn't based on her image and her publicity shots, she's known as a sharp analytical brain.

When you compare the two women the contrast is stark.

Palin's there to pull in the votes, and then sit down and shut up: With such limited political experience how is she going to make herself heard in the big debates?

On the other hand, Livni is a fascinating character.

Whether her past as a member of a state organisation which carried out political assassinations would compromise her in the role of Israeli PM is a moot point, but her credibility cannot be called into question.

Regardless of whether Livni is the right person for the premiership, she's at least in the race for right reason in the first place.

Which explains why she's running for Prime Minister when Palin is settling for second best.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


Public services and PR - is it OK to pay?

That was the crux of the debate in this Times article on Friday: http://tinyurl.com/4ktkdr

Unsurprisingly, Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, thinks it is not only OK, but essential that we pay up for PR.

During her lengthy explanation she said: "It is not political propaganda.
"This is about two-way communication, there is complete transparency, and if anyone has a problem with that they can give their opinions.
"This is about giving people information so that they can make a choice and make a decision.
"Public relations is a business activity that should underpin an organisation’s business plan. Public relations professionals work with key people to decide how an organisation will develop, how it can improve and become more successful."

The opening soundbite is text book. But it doesn't matter because her editorial adversary, Matthew Elliott, Chief executive of the campaign group TaxPayers’ Alliance, is coming right back at her.

His one-liner dismisses her: "The best PR is doing a good job in the first place."

Now, at this point I should own up: I worked in PR for 18 months, and I don't anymore, because I'm now a journalist.

But the debate here, is not the worth or ethics of PR in general - it focuses on tax payer funded public relations work for public institutions; the police, NHS, local government.

So why do we employ press officers in the public sector?

Lewis-Jones knows, let's return to her words for a moment: "Public relations is a business activity that should underpin an organisation’s business plan.
"Public relations professionals work with key people to decide how an organisation will develop, how it can improve and become more successful."

Bear in mind that a public relations practitioner is, and I cite my own experience at this point, a person who is not required to sit any exams or hold any academic qualifications in order to do their job. PR is not brain surgery, it's not law, it's not even the possession of business acumen.

We should be worried when Lewis-Jones tells us that PR's see their role as deciding how an organisation will develop, especially if this is a massively complicated concern, such as an NHS trust.

At what point did PR becoming policy making? And when did the public start electing its council press officers, its fire service spokespeople and its LEA PRs?

Back to Elliott and his doctrine of "doing a good job" - he's not talking about PRs - he's talking about doctors, teachers, planning officers - trained professionals, and experts.

I think he's onto something, just imagine letting these people get on with their jobs.

But we don't, because there's a layer of press office guarding them from the public and the media.

I find this insulting, to the public, the press, and the professionals themselves.

It assumes that a doctor can be considered fit to care for a patient in that he can prescribe drugs and carry out life saving treatment, but he can't be trusted to talk about what he does without jeopardising his job.


If he can't speak for himself then should he be out on ward rounds? If he is liable to say something that compromises patient confidentiality does he understand the Hippocratic oath? If not shouldn't he should be struck off?

By inserting this "communications" safety net to save institutional blushes are we not depriving ourselves of a useful Darwinian process of selection? In other words does public service PR protect the professionally weak? Potentially.

Lewis-Jones' next statement is symptomatic of the problem: "If we take the case of Ofsted, the money is unlikely to be spent only on press officers, but also on internal communications so that everyone within Ofsted is aware of what is happening and those that are going into schools are aware of the key messages or key information they need to impart and receive."

If it takes the PR team to tell an Ofsted inspector what "information they need to impart and receive" when they visit a school then, really what is the point of sending the inspector in at all? Why not just send the PR posse down to the school gates with a clipboard?

As for claims of transparency, I'd direct your attention to this inspired Freedom of Information request by the Oxford Mail: http://tinyurl.com/3sow9h

In my short experience I have already worked with public service press officers who think it is their job to defend their institution: It's not.

It shouldn't make a blind bit of difference to them whether the story is positive, or negative, as long as the facts quoted are accurate.

But then, they would just be simply passing on information, and I suppose underpinning an organisation’s business plan, developing an entire borough council's future and making the fire service more successful are all much more lucrative professional pastimes.

*With thanks to David Cushman for this glorious piece of etymology.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


I had no idea The Marvelettes sang the original.

To right my wrong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nuEY6fQgzk

I still love the Carpenters, although concede The Marvelettes do this one better.

And she waited...

No brown envelope for me today, so no scandal for you lot.

Never has a Carpenters song felt so apt: http://tinyurl.com/4yjzjk

Internal mail = fail.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I have reached a major milestone in my journalistic career.

The first Echo byline pales into insignificance, the masterly coverage of Britain in Bloom means nothing, and you can forget the live web chat too.

I had my first anonymous tip off last week.

Now, the details of this must remain top secret - so don't tell anyone.

Suffice it to say that it involves the church and a shoe fetish. A brown envelope containing proof of the alleged debauchery has arrived for me at another office, and tomorrow it will land on my desk courtesy of internal mail.

I can't wait, I feel like a kid the night before Christmas.

Already I've got a flavour of what this dossier of scandal might contain, thanks to a cryptic voicemail (number withheld, naturally).

"I don't really want to identify myself but I thought you'd like to hear about Mr xxxx who's running a xxxx from his premises in xxxx.
"If you log onto xxxx you'll find all the info on it.
"Interestingly this man is big in the church and it seems to me that the vicar of this church is in full favour of this.
"I do sincerely hope, Laura, that you will be able to act on this information.
"I hope you got the paperwork that I left for you at your office yesterday - which is all true."

My hunch is the poor bloke's done nothing illegal, my anonymous source is at least 89, and all of the allegations are libellous.

Still, I do love my job.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Pitbull Palin and the Lipstick Lesbians

Surely this is the cat fight to end all cat fights?

In the red corner we've got gun totin' Republican Sarah Palin squaring up to the dyke Democrat tag team of Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson.

That's right, first Lindsay goes gay, next she's grown a political conscious - and she's telling the world about it on myspace.

I'll let Lindsay and Sam explain their beef with Palin in their own words:
Is it a sin to be gay? Should it be a sin to be straight? Or to use birth control? Or to have sex before marriage? Or even to have a child out of wedlock?
I find it quite interesting that a woman who now is running to be second in command of the United States, only 4 years ago had aspirations to be a television anchor. Which is probably all she is qualified to be...
Is our country so divided that the Republicans best hope is a narrow minded, media obsessed homophobe?

Overlooking the hypocrisy of an actress who is spouting off about politics criticising a politician who wants to be a TV celebrity, it seems to me that if Obama isn't sunk by his "lipstick on a pig" remark then Lindsay's show of support could be the campaign kiss of death instead.

To be fair, it does get funnier, although not intentionally:
Oh, and...Hint Hint Pali Pal- Don't pose for anymore tabloid covers, you're not a celebrity, you're running for office to represent our, your, my COUNTRY!

But I do have a grudging respect for the writer who is able to find anything quote-worthy amongst the utterings of Pammy:
And in the words of Pamela Anderson, "She can suck it"..

..and skin it, and turn it into a pair of sledding mittens - careful there girls - Palin doesn't take prisoners.

Or does she?

All we hear about her is how she was raised by huskies, can spit 20 miles and will shoot your pets if you don't vote for her.

Only, she's number two on the ticket - and to my mind that doesn't square with her self-styled "Lara Croft storms the White House" image.

If she was so goddam go-getting why didn't she go get herself her own ticket, and stop letting some old bloke ride towards a credible shot at office on the back of her political momentum?

Frankly, Sam and Lindsay know more about more girl power.

Vote Obama.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Separated at birth

Has anyone ever seen Man United's Dimitar Berbatov and Sesame Street's Count Von Count in the same room together?

I only ask because I can't shake the feeling that the pair were separated at birth - see slide show.

It's not just those eye brows, receding hairline, swarthy complexion and penchant for a dark cape that the two share: I imagine that Mr Berbatov became pretty good at counting - the goals and the cash - when his premiership star status went stellar.

I wonder if he sings the songs, too?

Then again, when was football not about counting? For Mike Ashley right now it must be count, count, count: Number of Toon army members, anti-Ashley protest marches, managers likely to come and go, players looking to leave, bids to buy club (sadly for Ashley probably a significantly smaller figure than rest), and column inches written about the whole debacle.

In fact, the only thing he definitely isn't counting is his calorie intake.

Over at Man City I imagine there are many players in the squad whose counting skills can't comprehend the wealth their new Abu Dhabi owners have swept in with.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the first team has had to collectively take their shoes and socks off in an effort to work out how much they'll be getting paid by Sulaiman al-Fahim and friends.

Here in Liverpool, counting has been a very simple, satisfying pastime this weekend: Liverpool 2, Manchester United 1.