31 July 2006

Coding has no father

Gah! I spent hours this afternoon faffing with the template for this blog.

The reason I'm not a computer programmer but a wordsmith is because coding is a bastard. I've picked up bits and pieces of HTML over the last 7 or 8 years but I'll never be a whizz at it. I'm still working out the finer points of this template - it took me forever to install the links on the sidebar. Getting the links up was long overdue - several people/organisations have been kind enough to put a link to this blog on theirs and it seemed only fair to return the favour and add a few other relevant ones.

Not being familiar with blog coding in the slightest, it took a lot of concentration and hard thinking about logic (yes I installed the coding chunk in the wrong place to start with and it took me 30 minutes to figure out why the links wouldn't show!).

Anyway, the links are up now.

I think I'll stick to writing ordinary words...

I found a great new blog today

There I was, hanging out on a business networking forum giving someone some advice on becoming a journalist. This was a teenager who wants to write for a living - I and several others wrote some fairly lengthy replies to give her some idea of what she would be getting into. Someone posted a link to this blog, which I thought was an excellent read.

I had a look at the author's other entries and then their profile, which led me to their other blog... great site! It's always a joy to find other pedants like myself. The people that run this blog are utterly dedicated to hunting down embarrassing examples of crap grammar and piss-poor punctuation. It was a pity they couldn't spell standfirsts, though... :)

29 July 2006

Crossing a moral boundary

Browsing the Guardian this morning, I started reading this interesting article about plagiarism by students. Apparently, writing students' essays for them is a multi-million pound business. The statistics are quite shocking: one in six university students cheats in some manner; the number of companies supplying tailor-made essays is growing; one firm made £1.6 million last year alone.

Reading on, I discovered that the freelance writers employed by this firm can earn up to £1,000 a week writing essays for students who really ought to be doing it themselves.

For a split second, I was tempted - a grand a week!

But I worked hard for my English degree - it took me 4 years of hard graft, including a year out due to illness. There was no internet back then - I did all my own research, made my own drafts, then typed each dissertation up painstakingly on the old, portable typewriter that had originally belonged to my father. I've lost count of the amount of Tippex I used to get through, or whatever it's called these days (does it even still exist?).

Paying others to write your essays for you is stooping very low. It devalues your degree. But being paid to do it is even worse. Have these writers no sense of shame? I am appalled - granted, it's a tough market out there for us professional writers but there is plenty of work available if you know where to look for it.

Having struggled to graduate (I left school at 16, went straight into journalism, had to sit a mature entrance exam at 23, and graduated aged 28), I am proud of my BA Ord. in English and Creative Arts. It was all my own work.

So no matter how tempted I am at the thought of an easy K a week, that's a road I won't be going down.

The beloved P is looking over my shoulder as I blog - he just made a very pointed remark - it will be harder than ever for the less well off in our society to get a degree. If you're rich, you can just buy your way into a 1st-class honours in the subject of your choice.

Who says there is no longer a class divide in this country?

27 July 2006

Battling a small fleet

After being a bit short of paid work the last few days, suddenly it's not just a couple of sloops but nearly a whole fleet!

A web designer who contacted me a couple of months ago about rewriting his web copy has suddenly, out of the blue, decided to go ahead. To be honest, I thought that job wasn't going to materialise. But it has, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

So now that's two web designers I'll be doing copy for.

An editor I know who also does a lot of financial editing (like me) has once again and very generously passed on a contact for some work. He put me in touch with the investment finance publishers earlier this year, for whom I have since edited two books, with a third expected shortly. Now my colleague has facilitated an opening with a fairly prestigious company that does treasury publications. There's a copywriting job up for grabs, working on a brochure and a sales pitch. Plus the possibility of editorial work. I owe this guy a drink - the problem is we've never met and he lives on the other side of the country. But if we ever do hook up, I'll be buying him a bottle of champagne in thanks for his generosity.

Suddenly I seem to be juggling lots of clients in a small time frame. I just hope I don't drop any balls...

Why editors will never be short of work...

Because of this!

Machines are no substitute.

But shame on the copywriter who let a typo through.

This underlines the point I made here about why copywriters need editing skills too...

26 July 2006

Ship's come in

Well, not the QE2, but a a brace of sloops...

Hot on the heels of losing out on the Lithuanian job, I was asked at very short notice to redraft an email release for a new client who was so chuffed that I was asked to overhaul their website. Then another new client asked me to write a press release!

Happy days.

This business forum I've been networking on the last few weeks is starting to bring in new clients.

I have a nice, fat, juicy copywriting job lined up for next week too. All other work seems to be hold. I'm still waiting for the second investment book to arrive for editing, plus the rest of the university prospectuses. I remember summer was slow for business last year too - people are away on holiday and no one's in a hurry to get anything done. Things always pick up again as summer fades away.

The heat is driving me nuts - it's so hard to work constructively when the mercury's boiling - but it's been slightly cooler the last two days.

In the meantime, I'm still drafting the copy for my new website (I'm quite glad that it's a slack time for paid work, as I need to get this done). Emails have gone back and forth between my host and myself - he's supplying all the techy info I need to pass on to my graphic designer, who is now sunning himself on the Welsh Riviera while I try to write the text.

Time for a glass of wine...

25 July 2006


I just heard back from the Lithuanian travel company - they gave the job to someone else because they were cheaper. I shouldn't be astounded and I'm not. At least, I'm not astounded that they awarded the job to someone who offered to do it for less.

What does astound me are the people out there who ruthlessly undercut the market going rate for copywriting. I'd already pitched the job at less than half my usual hourly rate - this was partly because I knew the company wouldn't be able to afford to typical UK rates (and it would have been an interesting job) and partly because it only involved rewriting existing copy rather than creating copy from scratch.

The amount I would have earned, had the job been mine, was lower than even the lowest proofreading rates. Someone out there has offered to do the job for probably as little as £10 an hour - I'm hazarding a guess here, of course, but £10 an hour is way below what I was pitching at and it's less than a third of the going rate.

Tellingly, my contact told me his boss had decided to go for the cheapest option (which I suspected would be the case), and added that "we will see if it pays off", strongly suggesting that he thinks that quality counts for more than cheap rates.

You generally get what you pay for, and this is as true for copywriting as other things. Anyone offering to do that job for peanuts is going to race through it as fast as possible in order to maximise their already paltry return. I can't see that a good job will be delivered. Perhaps the Lithuanians will come back to me after all, they already hinted as much...


Maybe it's the heat or something, but suddenly the business forums I network on have been hit by a rash of wannabe copywriters. One of them said he was bored with his job in a large organisation, wanted to become self-employed, and decided on copywriting because he thought he could have a crack at it and earn lots of money!

Well, you can, but copywriting is not just for anyone. It's a skill. Being good at English when you were at school, for example, doesn't mean you'll be any good as a copywriter. You need talent to write well and it needs to be honed. It's not just about "writing stuff". If it was, everyone would be a blockbuster novelist!

Copywriting is about writing in way that entices people - to buy, to enquire, to take action... It's not particularly easy. I should know - it's a large part of what I do. Sometimes I can spend ages staring at a brief, while I try to figure out what to say and how to say it. Then polish it and polish it again. And keep polishing it until it's perfect. It's actually pretty damn hard to find the right words to convey a complex message concisely and clearly. It can be an agonisingly slow process at times, although fortunately, at others, it comes quickly and easily. I guess it's a bit like writing computer coding. Either you can do it or you can't. It's not for everyone. I couldn't write computer code, but I can write quality English.

Copywriting is not the same as journalism either. Journalism also requires good writing skills but of a different kind. It's probably easier to blag a career as a journalist if you can write reasonably well, but you still won't "make it" unless you have something to say that people want to hear. And you can be a journalist and still write lousy English - when I worked as a sub-editor for various magazines in London some 15 years ago, we were the unsung heroes of journalists: correcting their spelling, punctuation and grammar, rewriting large chunks of their copy, cutting out the waffle, shuffling paragraphs so the article would flow better...

These editorial tasks have to be done by the copywriter, because no one else will do it for them. Copywriters don't have editors to clean up their mistakes, so they'd better have good editorial skills too if they wannabe. A case in point - one of my current clients had previously used a marketing agency to produce some exhibition banners. There, in foot-high letters, in the middle of the banner was the word "industirial"...

24 July 2006


One of the things I hate most about freelancing is pitching for work. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to put yourself on the line and wait for a prospective client to decide that they'll hire you.

Last week, I offered to help a Lithuanian travel company redo their web copy. Several emails went back and forth and I spent some time going through almost 150 pages of existing web copy to work out a price for doing the job. Because they are in Vilnius and don't have the kind of hard currency we take for granted, I offered them an extremely generous fixed fee at way lower than my usual rates. The job looks very interesting and enjoyable so I didn't feel I would lose out overall. Today they mailed me back to say they are talking to a few other editors. Ok, I probably should have seen that one coming, but I was given the impression that I was the only one in the running until today. I expect it will all hinge on price, ultimately. Never mind the amount of time I have spent on it.

That's why I hate pitching. You can spend ages pricing a project for a potential client only to get turned down.

I'll know tomorrow, anyway, if I get the job or not.

It's just that I find pitching almost humiliating. Not quite, but almost. I strongly believe that the quality of my work speaks for itself. And most of my work comes from word-of-mouth referrals, which is how I like it to be. But as a freelance, you can't stand still. There is always a need to search out new markets and find new clients, so selling yourself is part of that process. It's just that that's the bit I hate most. I've never been a competitor - I used to hate school sports days, for example - and I'm not particularly ambitious. I just want to enjoy what I do and be paid well for it. Let's face it, I am good at what I do. And that's not arrogance, just honesty.

So I prefer my work to speak for itself. Except that I can't stand still, the nature of freelancing means I have to keep touting myself, which goes against my nature.

Besides the Lithuanian job, I'm also pitching for some financial editing at a quarterly magazine. I'm more likely to strike lucky there as there is a shortage of copy-editors who know their way round the financial stuff.

It's summer anyway, the silly season, when things are quiet. In the meantime, I'm keeping myself busy writing my new website copy for my all-new, all-singing, all-dancing website... who cares about weekend breaks in Vilnius?

22 July 2006

An odd sort of week

I've not done much that could be described as concrete. It's been a period for pottering. On Wednesday, my graphic designer dropped by my house - we lunched on quiche in my back garden, nattered about personal stuff and also about our future work plans. I'm much clearer now about where I want to go workwise than I was when I started freelancing early last year. He also can see directions to head for. Then we got down to the nitty-gritty of my new website. We sketched out a rough site map and talked about a few ideas for the look. He's off on holiday now so his assistant will start the building work.

Next day, he mailed me a quote. I was shocked at the price, even with the very generous discount he was giving me. I decided I needed some time to think about it so I didn't ring him back straightaway. He caught me on the hop next morning by calling me... We know each other well enough so I was honest with him about my feelings on the price. It's not that I can't afford it - I can. I just hadn't expected a simple site to be so pricy. He was kind enough to agree to do the same amount of work for my own budget. We settled on the new price fairly quickly and I was happy although I felt guilty for bargaining him down. I promised to do the copywriting for his own website revamp at an equally bargain price though (which means I'll probably end up doing it for a fiver an hour!).

I don't know why I'm being so antsy about the website. Someone else built me my original site more than a year ago and I never paid for it. Not from lack of trying - he put a design together, I liked it but it needed some tweaks, he went away again to do them and I never heard from him again. I sent several e-mails and left several voicemails, all unanswered. I became increasingly desperate to get the site up and running. In the end, I sent the nearly-finished pages I had to my graphic designer and he tidied them up and then I found someone to host the site (the original bloke was supposed to arrange that). I got it all sorted within 2 days - the tweaks were done for free and I only had to pay the hosting fee. I then e-mailed web designer no. 1 to tell him it was out of his hands but that I would pay him for the work he had done. He never replied!

I've had a free site for a year and in a way I'm quite glad because, over the last 12 months, my freelance business has taken off in unexpected ways and I've outgrown the original site.

So, that's all sorted - it should go live during August.

I tried to call the publisher of the mag I'm going to edit - he's too busy putting the current issue to bed so we'll talk next week. In the meantime, I may have solved the Mac problem. I need one to work on the mag and someone local has offered to sell me one for a few hundred, as long as it's compatible with the apps I need.

I caught up with my book-keeping again. I wasn't happy to discover that the bank took £7 off me in charges for a payment from my Dutch client. I need to sort that on Monday. I think I need to get a PayPal account, as I've also been asked to do a Lithuanian website overhaul and I want to be sure I'll get paid.

It's been too hot all week to work hard anyway - I was quite happy to potter. Summer is always a slack time in my trade, for some reason. I've used the spare hours to look through the new reference books I bought. I now have up-to-date copies of the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, the new Oxford Spelling Dictionary, a new and better dictionary of banking and finance and the latest copy of the Oxford Guide to Plain English.

18 July 2006

A forum plea, 4 e-mails and a phone call

...was all it took to secure a lucrative contract for writing web copy for a new client. I'm in a celebratory mood.

My new client posted a plea on a business forum I hang out on. I responded with an e-mail, a few more were exchanged, we agreed to chat on the blower and - result! An hour later, I had dissected his needs and we'd agreed to employ me. I followed up with a resumé of our online meeting. A contract will be sent out tomorrow. It's about time I had a nice juicy copywriting job again.

Paid work has been thin on the ground the last few days, mainly because I've been focusing on other work matters that will pay off in the long term.

I had a brief editing gig this morning, with more to follow, but I'm tiring of university prospectuses and fed up waiting for the next investment book MS to arrive from the publisher.

I took the day off yesterday to see my sister. The heat was sweltering, tempered only by the sea breeze in her town. I got trapped in the middle of nowhere on the way home as the train in front of mine had broken down. I arrived home 90 minutes later than planned, gasping for nicotine and cold water, and with no chance of getting any work done as the day was over.

My beloved P is away on business overnight so I shall indulge myself with the tv and a takeaway to take my mind off his absence. And plot tomorrow's work - my lovely graphic designer is dropping by for lunch so we can discuss my new website.

News stories are like buses

You can wait weeks for a local story on the BBC news website, then two come along at once!

Yes, the BBC ran another Chester story today, even though they published one just yesterday. This one's at least news rather than trivia, as it concerns a possible serial offender.

I wonder if the BBC has possibly started listening? One of the campaign supporters sent a message to the powers that be, which said: "I wanted to support this campaign as I am so fed up of Cheshire being missed out! Where I live, Winsford, several major news stories have appeared on the news, however we have been covered under Manchester news items and at other times under Merseyside...we are neither! Please let us have our own Cheshire page!! On a similiar note BBC national news seems to revolve around London news stories. London may be our capital but our daily lives are often affected by more local issues."

Nice to see I'm not the only one fed up with a London-centric media...

17 July 2006

Chester makes BBC news - shock! horror!

I was so startled I nearly fell off my chair - the BBC has actually covered a Chester story on its news website today. Admittedly not one of world-shattering importance - Joanna Jepson has been appointed as curate for the London School of Fashion. Jepson, you may recall, tried to force the police in 2002 to prosecute a doctor for unlawful killing when he aborted a foetus that had a cleft palate.

As far as I can remember, the last time Aunty ran any major Chester story was when Stephen Prudhoe suffered a mysterious death in 2004. The case has never been solved.

A quick search on the beeb website shows a total of nine Chester stories, excluding the Jepson item, since 1 January this year , almost all trivial, like new arrivals at the zoo. In 2005, the total count was 23 - that's less than two a month. Again, many of these stories were trivial (zoo news, Duke of Westminster's daughter marrying at the cathedral...). Given that we are more than halfway through the year, it's fair to assume our total news count for 2006 will be less than for last year, unless we are unfortunate enough to have another grisly murder here.

Time to send the stats to Aunty, I think.

15 July 2006

Wasted evening

You can interpret that how you like...

On my part, I was a bit cross. Hanging around waiting for non-existent work meant I had to cancel plans to spoil my beloved P by taking him out for dinner with my winnings. And I missed EastEnders. Twice, because the repeat on BBC3 was on later than normal and I was too tired to watch it.

My client e-mailed me an apology this morning, saying he had had too much to drink last night! Wasted indeed...

Never mind - the weather is set very fair in this part of the planet today and I intend to make the most of it. No work till Monday now.

14 July 2006

Client apparently three sheets...

... to the wind!

He mailed me back muttering about having had a litre (a litre!) of wine himself and asking to be excused because of the stress.

I replied 30 minutes ago saying that was fine but where is the file?

Since then, radio silence...

Looks like a sensible bedtime after all.

Editing while a quarter cut...

...is probably not a good idea. But I'm about to do it anyway.

It's 9.30pm here and by 7.45 I'd convinced myself the work wasn't going to arrive so I set about demolishing half a bottle of wine. And just when I was thinking about having one more glass and a quick surf, my client e-mailed to ask if it was too late to send that wretched file.

Like a fool I said no.

I may live to regret this...

Working out of hours

Gah! I can't believe I've just agreed to work this evening! It's gorgeous outside - still in the mid 20s C and I was looking forward to a chilled aperitif when the beloved P gets home, followed by supper al fresco then a dose of EastEnders before curling up with my book, which I'm desperate to finish as I think I've worked out whodunnit...

Instead, I've just committed myself to sitting by the computer waiting for an urgent editing job then cleaning the file up as it has to be published tomorrow. Normally, I charge time and a half for evening work and double rate at weekends, but not this time as it's a fairly new client and he's starting to put a lot of work my way, so it wouldn't really have been on. Besides, he'll be grateful I dug him out of a hole and give me even more work.

Talking of EastEnders, I don't know whether to be pleased or not that Wendy Richard is leaving after 21 years as the matriarch from hell. On the one hand, I can't stand Pauline Fowler - she has to qualify as the nastiest bitch of a controlling mother even portrayed on tv. But on the other, I'll be sad to see EE lose a great icon of continuity. If Dot Cotton ever retires though, I may have to commit hara-kiri.

It's not been all bad today - my numbers came up on the Premium Bonds. I doubt I'll be retiring to a country pile just yet, it was only 50 quid. Enough to take my beloved P out for a meal though, just so he knows how much I appreciate him.

I'm busy writing two pieces now for Editing Matters. I was commissioned for a page on the importance of keeping track of time when freelancing - you know, logging each job so you can invoice accurately and also price up new projects properly. This is not usually a problem for me when I'm editing as I charge by the hour and I record every job in an Excel spreadsheet. However, some of my colleagues out there use computer applications to time their work and I foolishly asked our e-mail forum for info. I was inundated with very detailed replies. I had too much material for the word count I was asked for, so I rang the editor and asked if she wanted a two-parter. She agreed, so now I've committed myself to an extra 900 words.

13 July 2006

All systems go!

So much for thinking it would be a quiet week. Monday yielded little e-mail but, as might be expected, it only took one day out of the office (Tuesday) for my inbox to be inundated. I came back from London to find nearly 100 e-mails needing my attention. Most merited only a quick glance before deletion, but a handful were to do with paid work. As a result, I'm now playing catch-up again.

My London meeting turned out to be very productive. The job's mine if I want it. But I'm not making any official announcement yet as there are a few things to mull over. The money looks good on paper, it's just that a handful of issues need to be clarified. I hope to finalise everything early next week.

I was shattered after going to London and back in a day but despite the tiredness I had a sleepless night. My brain refused to switch off and I tossed and turned for hours. So yesterday, despite work piling up I got very little done apart from dealing with yet another stream of e-mails. I was propositioned by a PR agency who wanted me to write press releases about internet gambling sites. Now, I never work for agencies on principle, as I have explained before, and besides, I wasn't particularly interested in this job as the person who contacted gave only a mobile number. What kind of PR agency has no landline? I googled the company to discover there was no website either. Well, there was, but it wasn't live. So I mailed back explaining these two points. I was most amused to get a shirty reply telling me how rude I was. Apparently just for pointing out that I don't do agency work and and saying I don't do business with companies that have only a mobile contact number! If I was rude, she was certainly unprofessional to reply like that. My best friend, who is keen to break into editing, agreed with me when we met up last night. I have no compunction about turning down job leads like that.

I had a nice phone natter with an editor/copywriter in Manchester about the trials and tribulations of what we do, and to discuss passing work to each other if either has a bottleneck. I'm planning to meet her soon in person to see if an exchange will be viable.

I also spoke to my graphic designer - we have another ad to prepare for our scientific client and we've planned a much-needed lunch meeting to discuss rebuilding my professional website. Hurrah! I thought this would never happen, but it's become increasingly urgent. I hope that this will be done by late August as it's long overdue.

Beyond that, files flowed across the ether to be edited. I'm going to have to work like a slave this morning to get it all done and returned as I need to take the afternoon off to buy a birthday present for my sister. And there are a zillion calls to make. And an article to write for Editing Matters on the importance of timekeeping for freelances.

Enough wittering, I need to buckle down if I'm ever going to earn any money this week!

10 July 2006

Things are happening...

It's been a busy few days so now I'm playing catch-up...

The "Get BBC Cheshire" campaign is starting to heat up. The North-West Enquirer picked up my blog entry last week about it and several people have contacted me to express their views. One person said: "I've emailed them before about this, and the fact there is no BBC Cheshire radio. Cheshire is unbelievably large, and for the county to be dismissed in this way is equally unbelievable. I was told a while ago that it is not viable to carry out such a thing and was told to just look in either the Merseyside or the Staffs/South Cheshire areas. I think starting from Chester and getting in touch with other towns and cities in the Cheshire (whether it be North, South East or West it doesn't matter! lol) area we should start a campaign for this to change."

Hmmm, depressing news but I'm undaunted. My next plan is to get the Chester Chronicle to do a feature, as they have a county-wide circulation.

I'm also pursuing the issue of MediaManpower - a quick call to the Information Commissioner's Office last Friday was useful. I was asked to make a complaint as they suspect the Data Protection Act has been breached. I duly filled in the form and posted it this morning.

Tomorrow, I'm off to London for a meeting with a publisher about taking over the editorship of a quarterly magazine on a freelance basis. Fingers crossed, and all that... More on that later.

Things are a bit quieter than I would like on the employment front. I'm pursuing a few leads to generate some work. I basically did very little work during Wimbledon fortnight, which was deliberate as I wanted to watch the tournament (I was gutted that Nadal didn't take Federer's crown yesterday), but it's had a knock-on effect. I don't mind - things always pick up. I need prep time today, anyway, for tomorrow. Although I suspect the rest of the week may prove equally dead. Besides, if tomorrow's meeting goes well, I'll be busier than ever.

06 July 2006

Beware of being harvested

Yesterday morning I was googling my name on the net in search of an article I wrote recently for a website and I was startled to see myself listed on a media database I had never heard of. The database in question, Media Manpower, is very new. Intrigued, I took a look at it, and there in black and white was my name on the list of freelance journalists. I searched the site further. The Contact Us page offers only a standard enquiry form - there is no physical address or telephone number. And it's a subscriber database. In short, you have to pay to be listed.

Not wanting to be lumbered with an unsolicited bill for a service I hadn't wittingly subscribed to, and eager to discover just how and why my name had ended up on there, I used the enquiry form to demand a prompt explanation.

Last night, I received a rather lame reply saying they had taken my name off a list of freelance journalists belonging to a very well-known professional body. This was patently untrue as my membership of that organisation is currently lapsed. Media Manpower also claimed that they'd been too busy to e-mail me to invite me to join but had been planning to.

I was distinctly unimpressed.

I'm a member of precisely three paid-up professional listings at present - SfEP, and the Freelance Journalists and Freelancers in the UK databases. I'm also listed on a few free databases that I have carefully selected. I'm pretty picky about where I list my services.

Harvesting my details without my permission is not on. For all I know, I could have been added to a website that could have been extremely damaging to me, professionally speaking. It's the industry equivalent of spam e-mails, given that I was given no prior option to join up, especially as Media Manpower charges for listings. Possibly, if they had contacted me first and invited me to try out a free 3-month listing (as stated in the e-mail), I might have been interested. But I have no wish to be associated with any company that acts on my behalf without my express permission. Besides, I have a policy of never doing business with a web-based organisation that has no contact details bar an enquiry form. How do I know where they are based? How would I speak to a human if there was a problem?

I just sent them a reply, which was basically a diplomatic version of the GFY commandment, excuse my French... I've instructed Media Manpower to remove me immediately from their database.

My next step is to warn every other freelance I know to go and check this company's database to see if they too have been unknowingly added.

On a brighter note, domestic calm has been restored at Wordsmith Towers now that the washing machine has been fixed and I was on a high last night after Marcos Baghdatis gave Lleyton Hewitt the drubbing I've long wished for him.

Eerily, today is exactly a year since the London bombings, bar the date (see yesterday's blog). Today, I am once again meeting my mother for lunch. I'm not religious but I'll be "praying" that today passes without incident and that there is no repeat of last year's atrocity.

05 July 2006


It's hard to believe it has been almost a year since the terrorist attacks in London. Despite being so far away (geographically speaking), the memory is still vivid. I remember seeing the breaking news on the BBC website, rushing through to the living room to put the tv on, trying to understand what on earth was going on...

My mother was visiting that day - she was staying nearby and catching a train to Chester to have lunch with me. By the time I left the house at 12.30 to meet her at the train station, the picture of what had happened was still unclear.

Entering the station, it was chaos as all rail services to London had been suspended. I remember a station staffer surrounded by people clamouring to know if their train would be running. I remember talking to a German guy stranded in Chester and due to catch a flight home from Stanstead that afternoon - I told him to call his airline as he had no chance of making his flight. Then dashing to the platform to find my mother, apologising for being late and explaining why. She was blissfully ignorant until I told her what had happened. Then she was full of questions. I could only tell her what little I knew - that there was a suspicion of terrorism but nothing confirmed. We ate lunch in the hotel bar over the road. The tv was switched to BBC News 24 and the pub was eerily silent as all of us watched the unfolding news.

Back home at 2pm, I returned to the TV. By now it was becoming clear that this was no accident. I started to cry and then it suddenly occurred to me I had friends in London, some so close they are practically family. I raced to the phone and began dialling. Why hadn't I thought of making contact sooner? Impossible to get through, the lines were jammed. Started sending e-mails and texts instead. Cried some more.

I did no work that day and very little the next, the news was too compelling. I was relieved that everyone I know was ok, no one in my circle had been caught up in the atrocities.

I've been reading the BBC's online coverage of what happened to the relatives of the victims one year on. It's heart-breaking and my tears flow again for those who died and those left to carry on.

Rachel North is again writing for the BBC. She is incredibly articulate and an inspiration. Her blog is compelling reading. Her anger at the government's refusal to hold a public enquiry is palpable and I share it, albeit to a lesser extent than the other survivors must. I signed the petition to demand an enquiry and I urge everyone who reads this to do so too.

There will be a two-minute silence at noon on Friday. Please observe it.

Books etc...

My accountant dropped by this morning to collect my books for the last tax year. I spent a couple of hours yesterday compiling all the paperwork into one ringbinder (I closed the books several weeks ago). Sorting and separating the paperwork was a dull job, made duller by the relentless heat and humidity yesterday.

I also spent a couple of hours updating my directory entry for SfEP, of which I am a member. The directory is published annually in the autumn. Until this year, it appeared in hard copy as well as on the website. From this year on, it will only be published online. Rising printing costs and the fact that more people tend to scour the directory only on the net means that a print version is no longer viable. Either way, it makes little difference to me - I'm still listed and it's a source of work for me. An important one, too.

Domestic chaos looms at Wordsmith Towers - the washing machine has died and our cleaner has quit. On the latter front, we were rescued from a life of grime by an eleventh-hour replacement who starts next week. I'm unlikely to get any work done this afternoon as I'm awaiting a repairman who will attempt to fix the washing machine. If he turns up, I will be gobsmacked. And doubly so if he actually manages to execute a miracle. Life's too short for trips to the launderette...

03 July 2006

Salford gets thumbs up?

I've just read that the BBC has decided its first choice for a Manchester move will be Salford. I don't actually care whether Aunty goes to Salford, or elsewhere in Manchester, as long as they move some of the corporation up north. Decentralisation can only be a good thing - the UK does not start and stop in London.

Heavens, we might finally see a BBC Cheshire news page on the website!

Quiet week ahead

I have very little work on this week. It's deliberate - I have far too much invested in watching Wimbledon during championship fortnight. I love grass-court tennis - in a previous, salaried job, I used to sneak into the boardroom in the afternoons if there was a particularly good match lined up, put the tv on and watch as much as I could get away with, then catch up on my work at other times.

As a freelance, I have to work as and when the jobs come in. I was actually expecting a book on some financial topic to arrive this week for copy-editing. I wasn't too upset when the commissioning ed told me there would be a delay as it meant more time for the tennis. And besides, I'm still recuperating from the last gruelling MS they tossed in my direction.

It's hot too - too hot to work efficiently. It's hard to concentrate when the mercury's nudging 30C and I have to keep leaving my desk in search of water. The only real solution is to lie down on the sofa in my shady living room and rest on the sofa. With the tv on...

All good excuses of course. But that's one of the luxuries of being self-employed - I can work when I feel like it.

I did do some work this morning. I finished off an editing job for a client then had a long chat on the phone with him after I'd sent the work over. The chat was useful - all part of building a good client relationship, and the upshot is yet more work will be coming my way.

In the meantime, I've just seen Murray get knocked out and I'm not in the mood to watch Federer pick off yet another easy victim. He's damn good but the matches are uninteresting because they are so predictable. I'd really like to see someone give a Federer a shock to the system, because then maybe, just maybe, the final really will be a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat thriller.

01 July 2006

BBC ignores Cheshire

As a regular reader of the BBC News website for about as long as it's been online, I am enormously frustrated by the fact that as far as Aunty is concerned, my county does not exist. If I want to find local news on what is, arguably, the most important and popular news website on the planet, I have to browse either the Merseyside or Manchester news pages.

As Chester is closer geographically to Liverpool than it is to Manchester, I usually trawl the Merseyside page for my daily dose of local news. Alas, on the rare occasions that this site covers anything happening in Cheshire, it is invariably a story emanating from Warrington or Runcorn, two towns which just might be considered part of Merseyside because of the industry there. Chester is just 28 miles from Liverpool, but culturally and physically worlds apart, due to the intervening barrier of Liverpool Bay.

Browsing the Manchester page, I'm even less likely to find Cheshire stories - just the occasional one covering Stockport or footballers' wives territory...

The last time the BBC actually carried a story on Chester was months ago.

I've been e-mailing the beeb on an irregular basis about this. Of all the English counties, Cheshire is the only one not to have its own dedicated page. My first three e-mails clearly fell into a black hole at the BBC News HQ as I received no reply. The last one, sent around 2 months ago, was answered about 3 weeks later. Clearly, my e-mail had been sent around the newsroom as the response I received was at the top of a string of internal e-mails which all said, more or less, "I don't know why this is. Can you pass this on to X?". The response addressed to me said it would be looked into. I guess that means nothing will be done.

I now see this as a personal mission to correct this appalling oversight. I intend to pester Aunty on a regular basis now until the situation has been corrected.

Our local paper, the Chester Chronicle, is fairly good (as I have said before), but it's a weekly. It publishes a free midweek edition, the Midweek Chronicle, which is supposed to be distributed on a Tuesday. Most weeks, I don't receive a copy - I guess they lack distributors. On the rare occasions it falls through my letterbox, it's on a Thursday, the day before the Chronicle itself is published. A fat lot of use that is.

I'm not a fan of local radio, which does cover local news, as I can't stand the ads and cheesy presenters. What I want is to be able to read local news on the internet, on a daily basis - I want somewhere that I can dip into at intervals in my working day to find out what's happening in my area. As a BBC licence payer, I feel deprived. And angry that my corner of the world is routinely ignored. To take a case in point, the BBC weather map for Liverpool places Liverpool itself at the bottom lefthand corner of the map and covers a territory as far north as Glasgow! Chester, just a few miles south, is not marked. Nor does Chester merit a mention on the weather maps for North Wales or Stoke/Staffs... On the BBC homepage, where I have actually managed to set the weather forecast for my local postcode, there is a link offering me the opportunity to find local information. You guessed it - the link is for BBC Liverpool! And if I click on the links below, to find out what music is happening in Cheshire, I get a counties map of England that shows - no Cheshire!

How can it be that a whole city, nay county, does not deserve a mention? Chester is only a very small city, built around a large cathedral, but it is still a city nonetheless. It has a university, a football club and one of the most thriving economies in the whole of the north-west of England. People come from as far away as Bangor to shop here at weekends. We have thousands of tourists throughout the year. We have cultural festivals galore.

But no news...

The campaign starts here!