Archive for the 'London' Category

Making a statement

So my efforts to resurrect my blogging career failed miserably. I have an excuse though – I’ve been busy buying my first house.

I’ve decided this is the one and only time I’m going to do such a thing. Not only have I found it incredibly stressful, it’s turned me into a bit of a fruitcake.

Not only have I developed a weird interest in ridiculously termed ‘statement furniture’, I’ve started spending hours poring over soft furnishing websites. And I’ve gone slightly insane looking at colour swatches trying to work out what the difference is between heather, amethyst, slate and dove grey.


My interior design and furnishing madness peaked yesterday during a conversation about the London riots.

“If I was going to bother looting somewhere, I wouldn’t bother with a sports shop in Clapham Junction,” a friend said as we watched a load of idiots smash up our nearby borough on TV. “I’d go to the Westfield Centre so I could at least loot a decent shop.”

“Yes,” I agreed fervently, thinking of my dream Supermarket Sweep-esque looting experience. “There’s a Laura Ashley there.”

My cringesome middle-class sensibilities should have made me a perfect candidate for the random interview I found myself doing at 2am this morning.

After eight hours of watching people ransack shops and destroy areas about a mile away from my house, listening to sirens and watching police helicopters overhead, I got a phone call from a radio journalist in Australia who wanted to record an interview about what I’d seen.

By this point the gym across the road from my flat was on fire, so I was able to provide the drama and colour he wanted. What he probably didn’t want was my refusal to agree that what is going on is down to racial and social tensions in my community.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so much of a clueless yuppie to know that there aren’t problems in London – heck, I lived in Peckham for two years and I hang out in Stockwell and Brixton – but to try and pin this on people making a social statement is just a complete nonsense.

What happened last night was the result of mindless opportunism. Those kids out pinching trainers and flat-screen tellies were just after a freebie, taking advantage of a stretched police force who couldn’t protect all of the areas under attack.

The real social statement about the area I live in came this morning from the hundreds of people who went out on the streets armed with brooms and mops to clean up the mess left behind by the morons.

Clapham riot clean-up

Anyway. You can listen to the interview here, I’m about five minutes in. I particularly like the glass-shattering and yelping they decided to play over it, because apparently there wasn’t enough drama last night so a soundtrack’s obviously vital.

I’m off to look at colour swatches again now. That’s really all the excitement I need tonight.


Naked ambition

I have a confession to make.

If you were at the Farmers Club lunch in London yesterday listening to me speak, in my head you were starkers. Yep, that’s right – completely nakey. Even the tablecloth didn’t spare your blushes.

Imagining your audience is naked is one of those age-old tips that’s always bandied about whenever you mention that you don’t like speaking in public. In theory it’s meant to make you feel like everyone in the room is more vulnerable than you.
public speaking

But in practice it turned out I started worrying about why everyone else was naked while I’d turned up in a dress.

Had I inadvertently turned up at a naturists’ convention? Were they judging me for not being a brave exhibitionist like they were? Did the man by the window really have a birthmark in the shape of Bart Simpson on his chest (really, my imagination is far too active).

I’d been invited along to a South East Nuffield group lunch to give a talk about my Nuffield travels. My brief was to be “funny and entertaining, like on your blog”. I didn’t dare try to explain that while I sometimes manage to be amusing in print, in real life that certainly isn’t the case.

It probably didn’t help that I’d expected a group of five or ten people sat in comfy arm chairs while I told a funny story about the day I thought I’d been kidnapped. Instead it was a formal affair with about thirty people sat around a fancy table staring expectantly at a wonky slideshow screen.

Weirdly, I was actually looking forward to speaking until I stood up in front of them. I even felt calm as I opened my PowerPoint presentation and started to speak. But for some reason my voice came out in a shaky, wobbly, squeaking noise.

It was at that point I fell apart.

“Why is my voice doing that?” the little voice in my head said. “Does that squeaking mean I’m actually nervous?

“Well I can’t be nervous, otherwise I’d be shaking uncontrollably. Oh, look, my hand is shaking.

“Oh no, now my throat’s gone all tight. Oh, it’s okay though, someone’s bringing me a glass of water. But why’s he naked? Argh! A naked man’s bringing me water! Those ice cubes are far to close to his….”

With all this going on in my head, it’s no wonder I barely managed to get any words out of my mouth, let alone tell a story or come to any meaningful conclusions about four months of study.

I have no doubt the group of people I was speaking to were as confused as I was about what was going on. “Why is that shaking girl trying to compare farming to an emu?” they were probably thinking. Don’t worry guys, I was thinking that too.


I have seven months before I have to give my main Nuffield presentation in front of several hundred people in Lincolnshire, so my ambition is to have a few more trial runs to get better at speaking out loud.

Unless I’m the one who turns up naked next time – then perhaps people won’t notice my shaky voice…


The funny side of farming

I managed to hold it together until the stereo started blaring out “Where’s your sausage gone?” to the tune of ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’.

It was at that point – stood outside Downing Street in front of a 16ft, shiny, hovering sausage – that I collapsed onto the floor in hysterical laughter.


You have to hand it to the pig industry – they certainly have a sense of humour.

At a time when producers are leaving the industry in droves thanks to spiralling input costs and appalling returns from retailers and processors, they went for comedy to make a very serious point.

At least, I hope they were trying to be funny.

Anyway, it certainly succeeded in being one of my more surreal days as a journalist. When I was at university learning the finer points of media law so I’d be able to bring down governments without getting done for libel, I thought I could only dream of being shouted at by Christine Hamilton for not wearing any gloves on a freezing day in March. Or asking the chief executive of the British Pig Executive in all seriousness how big his sausage was.

Much like the country’s pig producers, if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry…


Sausage signings

Tomorrow I’m going to be spending seven hours in central London with a load of pig farmers, an ex-Atomic Kitten, an ice-skating Gladiator, a 15ft sausage and a load of marker pens.

Giant sausage
I am a serious journalist… I am a serious journalist…. I am a serious journalist….

Jay Rayner would be impressed.


Settling back in

I’ve avoided blogging for a week or so, partly to give you a rest and partly because I didn’t trust myself not to just whinge about the fact that England is BLOODY FREEZING.

In just 24 hours on a plane I lost 35 degrees. Seriously, I don’t remember it being this cold before.

And what’s with the sun not making an appearance? For five days last week I went to FW Towers before the sun came up and left when it was dark. The lack of daylight has played havoc with my already-wrecked body clock, leaving me half-asleep at 2pm and wide awake at four in the morning. Thank goodness for my suntan, it’s doing a cracking job of disguising what would otherwise be pallid skin and my blood-shot eyes.

Aside from missing a source of Vitamin D, there are a few other things I’ve had to get accustomed to:

1. Wearing shoes. Four months of flip flops has left my midget feet flat and wide like a hobbit’s. They have not appreciated being squeezed into 4”, pointy-toed stilletoes.

2. A life without iced coffee. I’m probably healthier for it, but boy do I miss that sickly, milky, syrupy, caffeiney goodness.

3. Not going to the beach. While I hate going in it, I love being by the sea. Sadly, Vauxhall just doesn’t compare.

Admittedly being back’s not been all bad. It’s been nice to see the family, my Bestest and The Boy. It’s  been nice to find out my housemates didn’t kill my fish in my absence. It’s been nice to see my FW chums and to get back to with arguing with The Farmer. Heck, it’s even been nice to get back into writing about the CAP.

I’d been warned about the post-travelling come-down, so I know I’ll be okay if I just persevere for a bit. After all, Spring’s not far away. It’s got to get warmer soon, right? Right?


How to lose friends back home

Apparently it’s 11 degrees in London today and cloudy with rain later.

Nottingham’s got it a balmy 10 degrees, but with full winter sunshine.

It’s a hard life, innit?

Mission Beach


My leaving party

It was so nice of the big cheeses at FW Towers to throw me a going-away party at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane yesterday.

Thanks to the 1200 or so people who made the effort to turn up, and to the Prince of Charles for the video message – it was much -appreciated.

FW Awards

There seemed to be some kind of awards do going on at the same time, which was a coincidence.

Congrats to the winners, especially the lovely Hoskin family, who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year.


The age of austerity

Mr News Editor, Mr Chief Reporter and I went into London on Tuesday to have lunch with DEFRA farm minister Jim Paice.

We were meeting him ahead of his official announcement about the possibility of allowing farmers to cull badgers to help combat bovine tuberculosis. The idea was we’d get the low-down on the consultation plans so we could get cracking on covering the story as soon as the embargo was lifted, and also have a bit of a catch-up with Jim about upcoming farm politics stuff.

While I might not agree with some of his or his party’s politics, I do like Jim. I’ve dealt with him for five years now and I’m not sure he ever really thought he’d get the senior role he’s been handed. Which is which I like the fact that his position of authority hasn’t changed him, or the down-the-line way he speaks.

Yes, other ministers thought he was “bonkers” for taking on responsibility for sorting out the RPA.

Yes, he’d be an idiot to think he wasn’t going to face a legal challenge over any badger cull plans he might give the go-ahead.

No, we weren’t going to trick him into giving us any clue where DEFRA plans on making budget cuts.

My favourite line though was when we were getting ready to leave:

“I assume you’re paying for this. The taxpayer doesn’t pick up lunch bills.”

Without waiting for a reply, he got up, swept past the maitre d, and left the restaurant.

If this is what politics is in the age of austerity, I love it.


The farming front

If you were a small child and didn’t fancy the idea of eating carrots, what would be the one thing that would tempt you into trying them? How about a sinister, prancing carrot who not only claims to be a doctor, but also reckons he’s your bestest friend?

scary carrot
I wonder if this creepy character gave Roald Dahl his idea for the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Scariness aside, this was one of the great posters on display at the Imperial War Museum’s wartime farm and Ministry of Food exhibition.  Kiwi Paul has taken time out of his UK tour this weekend so we decided to pop along to the exhibit, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the introduction of food rationing and aims to show the role farmers played during WWII.

At at time when we’re concerned about food supplies and how to feed growing populatons, it was interesting to see how the government back then tried to get people to understand about the importance of reducing food waste, local produce and nutrition. Consumers today could probably learn a thing or two from some of the things the war-time government was trying to get across.

War stuff

It was also interesting to see the number of notices trying to explain the concept of seasonality and food imports to the public. Consumers these days always get knocked for not knowing it’s not normal to get strawberries in December, but judging by some of the posters, it seems the public was just as clueless back then too. I’d be interested to know how much the Ministry of Food forked out on leaflets telling people at what times of year different veg would be available, and whether this kind of campaign would work these days.

Maybe today’s government would have to get people’s attention by replacing the camp carrot with Jamie Oliver instead…


Sparkling stories

Whenever we’re sent an abysmally-written story or press release at FW Towers, Mr News Editor and I jokingly say we’re going to bin it because there’s “no way you can glitter a pile of manure”.

Apparently we’re wrong though, as a visit to the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday proved:

Chris uses elephant dung from Whipsnade zoo in a lot of his paintings, which he decorates with map pins and copious amounts of glitter. It’s all very sparkly, but a bit weird, even for my often unusual artistic tastes.

Maybe a livestock farmer ought to give him a ring to see if he’s in the market for some cattle manure. It might help them out with their NVZ and slurry storage problems

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