Do You Know What A Sugar Lump Is?

(Picture posed by model before you ask)

With diabetes being ailment of the moment at the NHS, I found myself spending a couple of afternoons last week at some awareness clinics in Bishop Auckland, the Lourdes of the North.

The course was called DESMOND, an  acronym so convoluted I simply cannot remember what it stands for. I’m pretty sure the first D is diabetes and then it all becomes a blur. Perhaps the M is mindless and the final D despair. Who knows.

Two lovely nurses- Brenda and Pat- took the sessions. At one stage I started searching for hidden cameras around the room as I became convinced they were really Victoria Wood and Julie Walters playing an elaborate NHS funded corporate joke. As a double act they were a bit dodgy on day one. Brenda kept losing her place and Pat had mislaid the plastic chicken breast we had to put on plates with other healthy ingredients. By the second day they had warmed up nicely and were even ad libbing off piste from the heaving DESMOND folder dished out by the Health Ministry. Brenda had a cold but would “struggle on” while Pat tackled the section on ‘erectile dysfunction’ with unhealthy enthusiasm. It was around this stage she took one look at the veins in my arm, admired their size and uttered  “ooh Brenda I wouldn’t mind sticking a needle in one of those”. I’m hoping this wasn’t a nursing euphemism.

This was no six hour lecture. The worthy wordy sessions – usually including rib-ticklers such as  ‘gangrene’ and  ‘possibly fatal’- were counterbalanced by practical sessions which to any passer-by would assume we had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Well you just imagine three food deprived diabetics standing in the middle of a room holding plastic bananas-  while being observed by two nurses with clipboards-  trying to work out which plastic food went on which plate. And I’m surely not the only person who thought  ‘well I know its synthetic but at the moment it’s all there is. Anyone got ketchup?’  

Ten people were invited to the sessions. Only three turned up. This didn’t surprise the nurses. Pat said she could tell by our medical records we’d be the ones most likely to attend. Why? The fat gets who have diabetes  can’t be bothered to switch off Jeremy Kyle, put their nachos down and enjoy being educated for an afternoon. Lazy? Definitely. Scared of the changes they’ll have to make to their lifestyles? Guaranteed.

As the DESMOND sessions have to appeal to all ages- and social classes- it is one step up from childlike in terms of the pace and approach to education and awareness. At one stage Pat looked us in the eye and said “you do know what a sugar lump is don’t you?”  Tempted to say “no, but can I guess”, we accepted the dumbing down with good grace, just thankful to be out of the house for a pleasant afternoon with nice people, albeit in the same building as the sexual health clinic. This made life interesting in the reception room as everyone tried to guess who had the worst case of clap. Any itching was quietly observed as we all pretended to read four year old editions of Hello!

All in all the diabetes afflicted seemed to enjoy the sessions and the feedback forms seemed to have lots of ticks. We felt good about it. And that made Pat and Brenda feel good. Did we learn anything? Diabetes is progressive so we’ve got it forever and it’ll probably get worse. Progress can be slowed, not stopped, by a mix of diet, exercise and generally looking after yourself.  And  have the odd treat, and don’t feel guilty about it. Now that’s my kind of health clinic. I can’t imaging a sexual health nurse ever saying that.

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How To Get A Five Month Old Story In The Sun Without Trying

Well it’s been quite a week, what with one thing and another.  And I’m still deciding what I’m more proud of- gaining a University MA or the family getting a ‘splash’ in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper.

The media hurricane has blown through and we’ve all survived unscathed. It’s been fascinating to experience. And as a journalist with 28 years under his belt it’s been quite an eye-opener to be part of the story from the other side of the net curtains.

So, let’s have a closer look at just how a five month obscure blog entry on my company website evolved into the rather breathless  ‘Soft Porn Shock In Family Garden’  headline in Saturday’s edition of the soaraway Sun with accompanying picture of a leggy lovely ‘tackle out’ apart from a rather nice summer hat.

What I have found particularly interesting to observe is how the original version of the story on the Questing Vole blogsite  transformed into a titillating tale fit for publication in a tabloid.  And how did our humble abode suddenly- and to the great delight of my accountant- become a ‘countryside village estate’.

Most importantly, how would the original version  be tampered with when all they had was the blog’s basic facts.  My line throughout – to any journalist  who asked- was to add no additional information whatsoever other than to verify the blog’s accuracy. And did anyone care that my blog entry was written in April? (nope) 

The evolution of the story, as someone who has worked in the regional media in the North of England for over two decades, followed a traditional pattern. First the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury, printed this after tracking down my blog on the village website.  

The next day, the Northern Echo called. Was my wife called Joanne? Erm, no. They duly published  their version.  And then we were off and away.  First I got a call from North News, an agency who essentially flog stories and pics to anyone who’ll pay for them. Did I want to do any photographs with our horse? (No thanks). Despite this an hour later a photographer from the agency arrived. “I’m just doing my job” came the standard line. Which was fine. God loves a trier. And I’ve used it on hundreds of occasions in the past.

Then the man from the Express called. Could they confirm our ages?( no) “We can check it from electoral records you know”. (Good for you). I didn’t take to him at all and played a straight bat throughout the conversation. Lesson: be nice to people and they might be nice back.

On Friday morning I got a call from The Press Association. I directed them to the blog and left it at that. My mobile burst into life early the following morning when friends started to text. We were in the Daily Telegraph. Then the postman  turned up. “You’re In The Sun. I’ve never delivered mail to a famous house before. By the way are the dancers still here?”

And that’s been about it. The kids are now legends at school and have been asked for their autographs. No lasting emotional damage we hope.

Looking fresh at the Sun version of the story this morning it does stretch the truth to incredible lengths and gives the whole incident a faintly grubby overtone. It was anything but. The girls were quite delightful and didn’t deserve that.  This tabloid’s distortion of the facts clearly had an impact on readers perceptions of the incident according to their online forum :

That group should have told the family the sort of pictures they will be taking…how disgusting they did that when they saw the 13-year-old lives there. You’d think they’d cover up a bit when the boy was around…disgusting…”

“Another crowd of slappers…..Christ Almighty Britian seems to be heaving with them!”

Others thankfully had a sense of perspective:

“It’s good to see that the Glovers are down to Earth and can see the funny side. Unlike the story of the woman who had to sit down outside a sweet shop whilst her husband had a go at the owner because the pictures on some Maoam sweets looked like the fruits were having sex!”

“I bet the horse didn’t complain LOL!”

So there we have it. How to get in The Sun without trying. Coming soon “The day U2’s  tour bus broke down and they played a private concert in our stables”

**FOOTNOTE**- Data shows traffic to my blog has increased in the last seven days by 736.84% while visits to my company website at http://www.lushplacesmedia.com have soared . Which is good.

Press Pack Swoop On Questing Vole’s Blog-Latest

****STOP PRESS**** Here’s the story from this morning’s Northern Echo.  I’d like to thank the ongoing coverage in all media outlets for raising the profile of Lush Places Media and bringing me the most visitors to my blog in the year it’s been up and running.  Amidst all yesterday’s doom and gloom about Teesside’s vulnerability bouncing back from the recession and other weighty issues it’s comforting to know that some bare arses still grab the regional headlines. Funny old world. Must go, someone’s at the door. No it couldn’t be…..could it?

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In recent days the Vole’s daytime snooze has been disrupted by phone calls from various seekers of the truth wanting to know more about an obscure blog entry written by me in the Spring. I’m sure regular readers will recall the unexpected arrival of a troupe of burlesque dancers at the house as they took a break from dance rehearsals at the village hall over the road. The scantily clad ‘cowgirls’  wanted to have some publicity photos taken with one of our menagerie (the horse, not our leopard gecko) surprising not only family members but the two fellas building our garden fence.

And so the months slipped by and the incident became a distant memory. Until now. So how does a five month old story written on a personal blog turn up in the Teesdale Mercury, our local weekly newspaper, and probably tomorrow’s Northern Echo- the biggest selling regional newspaper in the North East.

It’s a convoluted tale but stick with it. A fortnight ago the village held its annual Hoppings. I contributed by filming the event and posting the end result on You Tube  and the village website. A hot shot hack from the Mercury spotted the video, clicked on my company website alongside the video and started reading the blog which is linked to my site. Now I’ll leave it to you to decide why, of all the myriad categories to select from, he chose ‘burlesque’ and not perhaps ‘middle aged despair’….

I got a call, the story was verified, and his take on events duly appeared in this week’s edition (on Page 3!!) under the racy headline ‘Photoshoot Surprise Leaves Villagers Blushing’. (Thankfully I was not quoted as ‘gorgeous pouting Andy, 23, from Hamsterley’). When it actually happened was a detail which did not feature. Which I guess is fine. Look through most tabloids of a morning and you’ll find when and where stories happen is only mentioned in the final paragraph- if at all.

The reaction- not a lot to be honest. The kids got a bit of ribbing at school and that’s been about it. Until today- when the heavyweights rang. The Echo were interested.  Did I want to be photographed? (er, no) Did I know where I could find the girls now? (regretfully not). And so I went through it all again. Expect more of the same tomorrow. I hope it’s on page three again.

I’m currently considering offers to appear on Lorraine and as Piers Morgan’s first guest on his new CNN show. Perhaps they’ll also invite our horse on. He’s got an agent now. 

There is, possibly, a wider and more serious point to all this- how amateur ‘citizen’ blogging and hyperlocal nonsense such as mine plays a part in modern newspaper content gathering. Are we crazy loons sitting in our spare room in our underpants (frequently yes) or do we play an increasingly important role as newsrooms cut staffing and reavaluate ways of working in a truly social media world where audience and reporter now enjoy real-time collaborative engagement and debate.  I have just written an MA dissertation on this very subject. All 16,403 words available on request.    

One final thought, I wonder if the IT security people at the Mercury and Echo will soon be alerted by repeated newsroom computer search requests including ‘horse’ and ‘burlesque’ . Try it, it’s an education.

A Very ‘Social Media’ Social

 

You’re either into staff parties or you’re not. All that jealousy, bitchiness and simmering resentment, mixed with enough Breezers to sink a ship and the faint possibility of a stolen moment behind the wheelie bins, sometimes even with your partner. A heady cocktail to be sure and not for the faint hearted. 

 I could be described as something of a social butterfly who would quite happily go to the opening of an envelope so when I received an invitation to Border TV’s reunion there was no holding me back.

Planning was meticulous. After all this was no official company organised function with invites on corporate paper popped into pigeon holes.This was organised by the staff, for the staff. Social media played a part with Livvy and Jean relying on Facebook as the catalyst and method of communication to ensure ex staff scattered around the globe were given an opportunity to come along and join in the fun.

For some the chance to be reunited with colleagues they had not seen for years was a daunting one. Personal circumstances dictated  dramatic changes to their life and I was blown away by the courage they showed to not only attend, but be front of house and proud of the journey they had taken.  It was quite humbling.

Right. That’s enough emotional claptrap. Let’s cut to the chase. Egos were left at the front door and not an angry word was spoken. I got delightfully tipsy, blethered all night, reminisced to anyone who would listen, and for a brief moment, we were all back together again under the same roof working for the company as the decades apart turned into minutes.  And yes it seemed we were all family. And for that reason its goes straight into my list of great nights out.  And that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.

Normally you rely on hazy memories, stains on your tie, a missing sock, a black eye  and an empty wallet to realise how good a night was. However thanks to the internet photos were being distributed on Facebook within hours prompting more electronic interaction between long lost friends. It’s great to get back in touch with people you thought had gone forever.

I suspect Livvy and Jean and their army of volunteers and helpers probably intended the ‘do’ to be a one -off. But I can say that of the 227 people there I managed decent conversations with around a half.  By my reckoning that means we have to do it all again next year. Please find my cheque attached.

Remembering A Stranger

The multi-million pound tourism monster in York takes a lot of stopping, or at least slowing, but this afternoon one of our country’s young fallen- blown up in Afghanistan- was honoured with a military funeral in the imposing Minster. Normally one of the city’s visitor hotspots, the magnificent building reverted to core business for an hour as 23 year old David Hart from Poppleton was remembered.

 I happened to be in York on other matters but watched the city come to a halt from a rather pleasant tearoom in High Petergate through immaculately clean windows.

 An old friend once confused me when he said ‘you can’t beat a good funeral’. Today I think I knew what he meant.

 As a solitary bell tolled across the city skyline Police quietly, and almost without noticing, brought the heaving tousrists to order as they made their way from the Museum Gardens to the Jorvik Centre.

Many didn’t have a clue as to what was going on until the hearse started to make its steady progress from the Minster out along Stonegate and off to the soldier’s home village.

 Not a word was uttered. There was no signal. All of a sudden everyone seemed to come to order. The café staff stopped working; the scone-scoffing grannies next to me stood up; drunks emerged out of pubs to steady and cross themselves; Yankee tourists took off their gaudily coloured baseball caps. Clearly there’s nothing like a death to unite the world.

For only two or three minutes York stood still. It was quite extraordinary to be a part of it. Suddenly you felt part of a crowd all feeling the same emotions. And the worst of it is that this is happening all the time, in towns and cities across the country. Makes you think doesn’t it.

 And then it was over. The teenagers from Italy- temporarily muzzled by their teachers- started their screeching, and the York tourism machine could swing back into action. And I returned to my cold cuppa.

 

Just Another Brick In The Wall

The youngest child, when not reading wrestling magazines, drawing iguanas (his current obsession), falling off the trampoline onto his head or bad mouthing his elder brother is occasionally prone to announcements which can be hilarious. Or profound. Or potentially life changing. Last night was such a moment.  He announced that when he was older he wanted to go to ‘University Studios’. Clearly two worlds had collided in his brain- memories of lost summers in Florida with the in-laws had combined with me droning on about universities to anyone who will listen.  

Now think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t University Studios be a great idea? It would certainly get students out of bed in the morning. As far as I’m concerned it’s never too early for a white knuckle vomit inducing rollercoaster ride. And all the better if it killed time between two tedious modules in Lecture Room 8B.

It could add a tantalising twist to exams. Could you build a website while meandering along on the charming if soporific ET Ride? Or perhaps write a dissertation with some help from Homer Simpson on the Springfield family’s attraction.

I think I’ve hit on a winner here. Universal Studios have my full permission to develop this…..for the usual 25%.

You Couldn’t Make It Up

What happened when a group of semi-naked burlesque dancers knocked on a house door asking to have their photograph taken with a horse?

This is not the opening line of a joke or a cheap attempt to boost hits by luring perverts to the blog.  It really happened. And it really happened to us last week.

As I was away working on the day in question what follows has been relayed by my breathless and sweaty 13 year old son who’s frankly not been the same since the incident. And of course my wife saw it all. What a waste.

It all started with a short but effective Facebook message which my son posted. It read : ‘Result! A strip club just came 2 our door askin if they can have some fotos in our field! Get In’

The impact was instant. A mix of incredulity and extreme disappointment that I was 100 miles away running a training course where, to be honest, any semi naked person would have lightened the day. And for an active recovering diabetic where all the enjoyment has been drained out of my life it was almost as upsetting as not being able to eat BK double whoppers any more.

And speaking of double whoppers, back to the burlesque act.

So this is what happened. We live over the road from the village hall which is available for hire. It caters for the usual groups- bridge; keep fit;  art; parish council meetings and the annual panto. It’s very nice and  I suspect value for money. Most crucially for this particular story it is out of the way and off the beaten track.

What may have appeared on the village hall booking sheet as ‘dance rehearsals’ turned out to be something slightly more provocative and revealing…literally.

So the entourage- rehearsing for a revue tour of Europe- rolled up at the house with an unusual request. My son, halfway through a bowl of Frosties was lucky enough to meet them at the door. He was confronted by several attractive young ladies dressed as ‘cowgirls’ accompanied by two effete men for which showbiz was always going to be a calling. When I say dressed I mean all the key areas were covered, but only just. Could they have their photographs taken with a horse for their brochure?

Yes, he replied breathlessly before heading up to his room and locking the door. The wife was called to the door who looked them up and down before agreeing.

They seemed respectable from the front but following the group down to the stables she then spotted a key collective wardrobe malfunction. They were wearing riding chaps but nowt else baring their cheeks to the world….and to two astonished tradesmen building a fence in the garden. My youngest son (11) also helpfully pointed this out. “They’ve forgotten to put their pants on Mum”.

The photographs were duly taken and the grateful entourage departed. Our brush with the glittering world of showbusiness was over.

I’m now back at home. As I write this I’m looking over at the village hall from the window. Sadly no cowgirls….just the regular art class. Perhaps it’s just as well. I’m in a fragile food deprived state. But I’m going to prepare the potting shed just in case they want a shot of me with my dibber. 

So when you find yourself in a ropey nightclub in Cyprus this summer and are entertained by a burlesque troupe dressed as gardeners with peek a boo dungarees and smelling of pony manure you’ll know where the act was fine tuned.