Party like it’s 1999

Social mores in the modern age.
I know, via a text, I’m going to a milestone birthday party on Saturday. I’ve known this since last Sunday. The finer details such as location, time of arrival, manner of dress and so on are unknown despite two reply texts requesting these uncomplicated but vital nuggets of information.
I’m hanging loose, as always, confident that as a minimum where I’m expected to be and when will follow in the same manner as the invitation. Just in time. And who cares what I’m wearing. It’s 2016.
I do, however, feel a bit of friction from my fifty-something old school expectations of how to organise my social life rubbing up against technology.
I should probably just chill out and be grateful I got invited.

Teenage kicks

I’m doing a massive life laundry at the moment and one of the more interesting things that has surfaced is the diary of my 13-year-old self.

It is a Collins pocket diary with about two centimetres of space per day to record your innermost thoughts, but even with that minimal effort required, I still only managed to make entries up to the 8th of January, leaving Samuel Pepys’s (a contemporary) reputation untroubled.

The year began in promising style: “Wet. Did not awake until 3pm after Hogmanay. Went to Nana’s for a meal as usual. Had a rare old time that night with Dad. Aunt Mary stayed so it was even better. Didn’t get to bed until 1am.”

Changed days. I now make I sure I avoid a ‘rare old time’ at Hogmanay and aim to be in bed by half past midnight.

The weather remained ‘wet’ or ‘cold and cloudy’ or just ‘cloudy’ through to the 7th – this was the west of Scotland – at which point the diary records the following fever pitch of social frenzy: “Went back to school today. Alan came round to look at my microscope. Aunt Mary came too.”

Aunt Mary was a frequent visitor.



Last week I complained to the PCC about the use of the word ‘jihadist’ by The Sun in a headline about the Boston bombing based on clause 1 of the editor’s code (accuracy) and clause 6 (discrimination) on the grounds that there was no evidence for the motivation for the alleged perpetrators. I received this reply:

“The concerns you have raised relate directly to Mr Dzhokar Tsarnaeva and the late Mr Tamerlan Tsarnaeva, the subjects of the story. Given the nature of the story, it appears that it would be difficult for the Commission to investigate or understand this matter fully without the involvement of the Tsarnaeva family. In addition, the outcome of a Commission investigation (whether correction, apology or adjudication, for example) would need their approval. In such circumstances, we would generally require a complaint from the Tsarnaeva family or their representative, in order to take the matter forward.

If you believe, however, that there are exceptional public interest reasons for the Commission to proceed with an independent complaint under the circumstances, we would be grateful to hear from you in the next ten days.

Once we have heard from you, the Commission will be asked whether it wishes to take the complaint forward. If you would like to discuss your case before replying please do contact us. If we hear no more from you we will close our file on the matter.”

I pressed my case and had this reply:

“We will now ask the Commission whether it wishes to take your complaint forward as an independent complaint. We will write to you further about this matter as soon as possible.”

Don’t hold your breath. Could be an interesting outcome

Girl power – Reading’s Top 10 women?

This week the Reading Post published a list of the top ten ‘most powerful women in Reading’.

Do you agree with who was included? There’s not a black or brown face among them. Let me know if you know someone who should have made the top 10.

I spoke to them to get their reaction to being included on the list.

Here are some of their responses.

Fiona Brownfoot retail partner at property consultant Hicks Baker gives advice to developers of high profile sites in Reading such as Station Hill and Chatham Place.

On hearing the news about being named one of Reading’s most powerful women, Fiona joked: “I’m not sure powerful is the right word. Opinionated or influential may be more accurate. I have views on things and I quite like to share them with everybody.”

On the differences between women and men in business, Fiona had an interesting quote to hand.

“Men think they are ready for a job a year before they really are, whereas woman think they’re ready a year after.”

“That has to be about confidence, doesn’t it,” said Fiona.

“Women are more questioning about their abilities – can I really do this? – while men are more ballsy and arrogant dare I say.

“Women shouldn’t just sit at the table thinking they will be laughed at. Just do it! Very often you’ll say something in a meeting and the men round the table will look at each other and think, ‘that’s quite a good idea’.”

“In my profession being female has been an advantage as you get remembered for being a rare woman in a male-dominated world.

“We do see things from a different point of view. Women can find solutions to problems by coming at them from a different angle.”

Lesley Donoghue  principal of Reading College, has worked in higher education for 25 years.

Like many of our top 10, Lesley reacted modestly to the news that she has been named as one of Reading’s most powerful women:

“I recognize that as principal of the college I am in a very privileged position,” said Lesley.

“We have 7,000 students in the college and our mission is to support the life chances of people in Reading so I take it as a recognition of the college’s standing as much as my own.

“The approach I’ve taken to my career has been to listen to those around me and let their careers develop and then the organization will develop around you. I find myself in this position because of the people around me.

“My biggest tip to other women would be to develop your own self-belief and don’t let yourself be the one that holds you back.”

Lesley commented on the lack of black and minority ethnic women in the list.

“In further education we have the Black Leadership Initiative which supports black men and women in education. Advocacy organisations like that should be supported. We’ve got to have a balance that reflects the nature of society. Encouraging positive role models is an absolute must”.

Robyn Jones founded catering company CH&Co 21 years ago and now employs over 2,500 staff.

“Catering has always been my love. I had the opportunity to set up my own business when I was made redundant and I took up the challenge full on,” Robyn said.

“I’ve now got a big team around me, so I can afford to watch others grow and blossom in the business.”

It wasn’t always that way for Robyn. Her philosophy for success in business is to “work hard at your chosen profession and when success comes later on you will have time to have fun.”

“After being made redundant my confidence was low but I majored on what I knew best. I started in a recession and we’ve been through a couple more since then, but I believe hard times offer opportunities for young people to succeed. Go for it I say.”

A couple of years into the business Robyn and her husband decided to start a family, but Robyn carried on working through pregnancy and motherhood.

“When you’re the top person it doesn’t allow you to go and rest when you’re bringing up children. You have to be very committed and give it 100%.”

Labour councillor Jo Lovelock has sat on Reading Borough Council for 26 years and is the council’s first woman leader.

She advised any woman wanting to succeed in public life to, “be yourself and stick to what you believe is right.”

“There are always new challenges,” she said.

“When I was first elected I was the mother of young children, so for many years had to juggle that with being a councillor as well as my job as a part-time teacher. It’s only really in the past couple of years that I’ve been able to devote more time to council work as I’ve now retired and my children are grown up.”

On the number of women currently sitting in Reading’s council chamber, Jo said, “We’re better than some councils but we’re still some way short of the 50% that I would like to see.”

On the ethnic diversity of councillors Jo commented: “It’s something we are very conscious of as a council. We have male Asian councillors, but no black or Asian women, and we’re always looking to address that. We have some excellent black and Asian officers in the council but as an employer it’s something we need to keep working at.”

Head judge of Reading Crown Court Judge Zoe Smith has been on the circuit bench since 1999.

Judge Smith put her placing in the list down to her position more than her personal qualities.

“It’s not me that’s powerful, it’s the job and the powers that a judge has,” she said.

“I think being named in this list is recognition of the importance of the role. I think I’ve been very lucky in my career.”

Judge Smith recognized the need to attract more black and minority ethnic women into the legal profession.

“We are very much aware of diversity and community. We obviously want to involve people from minority backgrounds in the profession.”

Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police Sara Thornton was named Britain’s 18th most powerful woman by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

On being included in the list Chief Constable Thornton commented: “While it is always nice to be noticed I think that the people who make a difference in Reading are the officers and staff who work hard to protect the public every day.”

I asked what tips she would give other women looking to succeed in their chosen profession.

“Focus on being as good as you possibly can at what you are currently doing and don’t constantly worry about your next step up the ladder,” she replied.

The Chief Constable also believes being a woman hasn’t hindered her career.

“I cannot think of any examples of being held back because I am a woman – in fact because it marks me out from the crowd it can be a benefit at my level.”

Helen Waring is owner and director of graphics company Cream Design and trustee of homeless charity Launchpad and children’s charities Swings and Smiles and Daisy’s Dream.

Helen was flattered and shocked to be included in the top 10 list.

“I’m not sure I am worthy of such an accolade. When we set up Cream Design in 1997 we wanted to build something to be proud of. Most good agencies at that time were setting up in London but we deliberately wanted to stay local, and we are so glad we did.” Helen said.

Asked for tips on how to succeed in business as a woman, Helen continued,  “I have found that if you are determined enough you can do anything you set your mind to. My greatest motivation in all things both professionally and personally is being told ‘you can’t’!

“I think our only limitations are the ones we set ourselves – but that goes for men and women. Networking has been very important to me professionally.”

Helen believes she has never been held back in her career because of her gender.

“I was lucky enough to have a very inspirational and encouraging boss, when I was in my 30s, who made me believe in myself and believe that I could do anything I wanted, if I worked hard. He really changed my outlook. I have never thought of myself as a woman in business but as someone who loves what they do and thoroughly enjoys the people they work with and for. I still get excited about going to work. I work in a great team and wouldn’t be able to do the things I do and help the charities I’m involved in, without their support, so I have to thank my design team Barney and Andy for that.”

I asked Helen why she thinks there aren’t more prominent women in business.

“I’m not sure that there aren’t more,” said Helen. “I just think they are hidden away. I am sure there are dozens of women in Reading far more influential than I am in their places of work.”