broadcasting

Land of Hope ... and Glory

There are some pieces of music which are iconic, and for me that includes not just rock and pop but also the occasional piece of 'classical' music.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a classical buff ... I don't listen to a lot of what might be described as 'classical'  music, but I do enjoy the occasional iconic tune.

So I was interested when I discovered that On this Day - October 19th - in the year 1901, a piece of music which would become one of the most well-known in Great Britain at least, was performed in public for the first time.

The Pomp & Circumstance March No 1 is perhaps best known because it includes the tune which is the song Land of Hope and Glory. which is especially well known in the UK because it's a highlight of 'The Proms'. otherwise known as the 'BBC Proms' because the series of mostly classical concerts are shared with the world by that broadcaster. The march and the tune is traditionally also an integral part of the Last Night  of the Proms concert.

Edward elgarThis iconic piece of music is the creation of Sir Edward Elgar and many of his works are part of the British and international classical concert repertoire. Apart from the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, another of his best-known orchestral compositions and works is another favourite of mine -  the Enigma Variations - but he's also well known for concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. Elgar also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs.

Elgar is often regarded as a typically 'English' composer but the most interesting thing I've learned about him is that his musical influences came not from Britain but from continental Europe. He also felt like an outsider including musically - this was a time when music was dominated pretty much by academics and Elgar was a self-taught composer. Now THAT'S astonishing!

Socially Elgar also felt out of place.  He was a Roman Catholic in a largely Protestant Britain, and as a result some people were suspicious of him. He was from humble origins but lived in a very class conscious society in Victorian and then Edwardian Britain. He apparently was sensitive about his beginnings even after he gained recognition.

And another interesting point about Elgar - his major success didn't come until he was in his 40's ... 

That's encouraging I think ... it's never too late!

Just a note about the Pomp And Circumstance Marches - full title Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches. Although No. 1 In D and March No. 2 premiered today in 1901, actually they are a series of five (or six) marches for orchestra. The first four were published between 1901 and 1907, when Elgar was in his forties, but the fifth was published in 1930, a few years before his death and a sixth march was compiled after his death, from unpublished sketches. This was published in 1956 and in 2005–2006.

But back to Marches No 1 and 2. Both compositions were played two days after the premiere in Liverpool, at a Promenade Concert - a 'Prom'  - in the Queen's Hall in London. It was  conducted by Sir Henry Wood, who is synonymous with the annual promenade concerts. Wood actually conducted The Proms for nearly half a century and introduced  hundreds of new works to British audiences, and after his death in 1944 the concerts were officially renamed in his honour as the "Henry Wood Promenade Concerts".  In 1901 he conducted Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1  second, after March No 2, and Wood later recalled that the audience  "...rose and yelled... the one and only time in the history of the Promenade concerts that an orchestral item was accorded a double encore." (Henry Wood, My Life of Music p. 154)

And a final point before I leave you and you can enjoy this presentation of the iconic piece ...  The piece now known as Land of Hope and Glory in its original form was just a tune.

It was a big hit, including with the new British monarch - King Edward VII - who happened to mention to Elgar that he thought his March No 1 tune would make a great song. So when the composer was asked  to write a work for the King's coronation, he worked the suggestion into his Coronation Ode, with words written  by the poet and essayist A. C. Benson. Unfortunately the coronation was postponed because the king was unwell, so Elgar created a separate song, which was first performed by Madame Clara Butt in June 1902. And part of that original work - the first of the seven stanzas of the Ode's original final section - is now a feature of the Last Night of the Proms, and has become an English sporting anthem and a  general patriotic song.

Final thoughts on all this - apart from the fact that some people are just brilliant Elgar teaches me that sometimes we have to wait for things to happen for us. And sometimes what we create turns into something more wonderful than we might ever have imagined or dreamed.

How wonderful!

 

 


Friends (I'll be there for you)

Today I'm going to indulge myself a little, and share with you one of my favourite TV programmes of all time.

If I mention the main characters in the sit com in question, many of you will know exactly what show I'm talking about.

FriendsMonica, Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe!

It was on this day - September 22nd - in 1994 that 'Friends' aired for the first time on the American TV network NBC. . It's the unfolding story of six friends in their 20's and 30's who live in New York City. Over ten seasons until May 6th 2004, the final episode, we saw their lives and loves unfold.  Lots of laughter and quirkiness, some tears and tragedy, amazing moments. 

I have to say 'Friends' captured my imagination from the get go. I just thought it was so cleverly written - we were drawn into the lives of these people, all of whom were very different and all of whom really were nothing like me. Plus I've never lived in New York ... but it was just fun.  Actually, I found it to be a weekly escape  from the realities and stresses of life - in those days there was no binge watching, we had to wait a week for the next episode! 

It became a 'water cooler' type of show, one which we would talk to our friends and family about. My niece, Vicki, in particular was and is a great fan of 'Friends' and it was something we had in common, moments remembered that we could laugh about.  Quoting from 'Friends' is a thing for us! Even now!

This was a sit com which brought people together. It's been described as an one of those 'iconic, culture-defining shows' and although it's been 17 years since the last episode aired, somewhere in the world and in the UK it's playing right now!! And if that ends I always have the boxed set.

Down the years there have been calls for new 'Friends' episodes but this year the cast did come together for a one-off  special called ‘The One Where They Got Back Together’,which celebrated the mega-hit comedy’s 25th anniversary.

Would I want a new series? 

Probably not ... it was fun while it lasted but time has moved on. The cast have moved on to new projects but still, if they are reading this (wow wouldn't that be fabulous?) I'd just to to say a HUGE thank you to all the writers and producers and staff who gave us so much pleasure down the years, and especially the Iconic Six - Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courteney Cox (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (the weirdly wonderful Phoebe), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), Mathew Perry (Chandler) and David Schwimmer (Ross) - THANK YOU GUYS!

One of the things that defines a great TV show, I think, is the theme tune. Every time you hear it when the show is being aired, it gives you a shiver of anticipation. Now that the show is over and only existing in 're-runs' that theme tune is just like a bit of a comfort blanket.

In the case of 'Friends' it's 'I'll be there for you'' by The Rembrandts, with that iconic chorus which really sums up friendship. Well it does for me, anyway.

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

In the year or so after 'Friends' was aired for the first time, I was in the USA on holiday, in Florida with a friend and we were out for dinner in the Disney resort area. It was a warm night, masses of people around on the boardwalk and there was a huge TV screen in the central square where, I think, there was a fountain and seating area. We were walking through there and on the screen came the official video for the 'Friends' show! We and loads of other people ended up singing the song  at the top of our lungs ... and laughing until we cried. 

What a memory! Fun, friends and feeling happy. Doesn't get much better than that!

I'm blessed to have great friends (and family members) who I know will stick by me, whatever. And I'm so blessed and thankful for that. We may not live in New York City, and actually we're often separated, but true friends will always be there for each other!

So today, to mark the anniversary of the first time the world got to know those six 'Friends' ... here's the official video ... not only featuring The Rembrandts but the main cast members!

Sing along if you want. Out Loud is good. 

Smile, laugh and ... enjoy!

 


Never Forget

Where were you on Tuesday September 11th 2001? 

It's a date that, of course, goes down in history as one of the saddest and most shocking of modern times.

And today it's 20 years since what has become known as '9/11', that infamous terrorist attack on the United States of America

Four commercial airlines were hijacked mid-flight by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists.  Two of the aircraft were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Centre,  the iconic Twin Towers in New York City, with the subsequent collapse of those towers. A third was crashed into the west side of the Pentagon in Washington DC, the headquarters of the American military. A fourth was also hijacked and was also destined for the USA capital, but the brave passengers on board attempted to gain back control of the aircraft, which subsequently crashed instead in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Of course, it's the image of the burning Twin Towers that remains in most of our memories and that's why many of us remember where we were on that day.

At the time I was Head of Broadcast of a small (somewhat experimental) TV station in Hertfordshire in England. It was called 'Home TV' and it broadcast just to the towns of Hertford and nearby Ware and surrounding areas ... the forerunner, one might say, of the small digital and cable stations that sprang up later. We ran local news, sports and weather mostly, mixed in with other interesting 'bought in' programmes and national news from SKY TV.

Some members of my small team and I were in the operations room, the control room from which we controlled transmission. It's a room with lots of TV monitors which allow the directors and engineers to see what's coming in and what being transmitted to our viewers. The SKY TV news feed monitor was always on so we could see what they were running, even if we were not 'taking' the live feed at the time.

It was around 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we were having a news planning meeting for the next upcoming local news bulletin - scheduled for 6pm - when we looked up to see the SKY TV monitor flick to pictures of the World Trade Centre in New York, with one of the towers (the North Tower)  ablaze. We turned up the sound to hear those words 'News coming in of ....'

We all stood there, pretty shocked, I have to say. And then, a few moments later,  we saw it ... the second aircraft plough into the South Tower.

It was devastating! It was at at THAT point that I realised that this had to be a terrorist attack rather than an airline crash or accident.

But with my news head on I also realised that we needed to break into our regular programmes and show what was happening there across the Atlantic in New York City and, as it transpired, in Washington DC and other parts of the USA.

We had to have special permission to dip into SKY TV outside of our contracted hours, so I picked up the phone to their control desk.

All I said was 'Home TV in Hertford, we're taking your news feed now!' I guessed that no one there would be able to answer questions because of the seriousness of the events unfolding, and I figured that if we were in trouble for taking the feed, we'd deal with that later. We flicked live to the SKY TV feed and stayed with it all day. Somehow, news of what was happening in two small provisional towns in the UK seemed immaterial at the time, as did re-runs of cartoons and natural history programmes and sports compilations.

I really can't remember if we did a 6 o'clock bulletin. What with trying to get reaction from local people and working with the small team of largely young and inexperienced staff who were, understandably, rather traumatised by the day, September 11 2001 became a bit of a blur.

It was only when I went home late that night and sat down to watch the national BBC News that the enormity of the day began to settle on me. 

That day 2,977 people were killed and more than 6,000 others were injured. The immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Centre and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.  Most of those who died were civilians but we know that 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers died in the World Trade Centre and on the ground in New York City. Another law enforcement officer died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into that  field near Shanksville and 55 military personnel perished in the attack on the Pentagon.

Of the 2,977 people who died, 2,605 were U.S. citizens and 372 non-U.S. citizens - all were loved, had families, some were dads and mums and grandparents. Each person is a hole in the life of someone else. 

9/11 is the deadliest terrorist attack on the USA and, in fact, in world history. Over the past two decades we've seen the experiences of that day played out on TV over and over and over. I think that must just be awful for those who lost someone that day, especially in the Towers, as they are being constantly reminded of their precious loved ones final moments of life.

Of course, we know that the 9/11 attacks led to an invasion of Afghanistan, where the al-Qaeda terrorists were allowed sanctuary, the eventual killing of the mastermind behind it - Osama bin Laden - and 20 years of Allied troops on the ground, with the loss of many more thousands of lives. American and British and other military personnel who were killed or injured in the subsequent years of battle and not forgetting the many many thousands of  innocent Afghanis who got caught in the cross fire. It's only last month - August 2021 - that the allies have moved out, leaving the country once again in disarray and once again under the control of the Taliban ... itself a radical Islamic group. But that's another story.

In the intervening years I was privileged to hear some of the personal stories of those who were directly affected by the events of 9/11. People who were on holiday in New York city and saw the events unfold in front of them. People who served at 'Ground Zero' (the place where the towers fell) for many months afterward, including chaplains and others from The Salvation Army in New York City and the wider north eastern provinces. People back here in the UK who were also affected and traumatised.

So today, as I have done every year  since that infamous day in 2001, I take time out to remember all those precious souls lost on that dreadful day.

I pray for their family, friends, loved ones, colleagues. I pray for the children who never knew their fathers, all those lives unfulfilled and the doors closed too soon.

And I remember them.

It's twenty years since that terrible day and we should NEVER forget them!

911


Celebrating Kindness!

Today in Jersey in the Channel Islands we will celebrate Kindness!

Kindness Festival Sept 2021It's the fourth biennial Jersey Kindness Festival - previous events happened in 2015, 2017 and 2019 - and it's a celebration of all the people here in our lovely island who live lives of kindness. Simple really.

At the beautiful harbourside in the village of St Aubin around 30 charities will set up stall to show off what they do, to chat to people, to have fun, and to show how every day their acts of kindness are making a difference to those living in our island and to the world.

Each of the charities has been tasked with bringing something fun to the party - so there are competitions and face-painting, arts and crafts, sculpting, yoga, hand reflexology and lots of conversations to be had.

It'll be educational as well. There's a chance to walk through a giant inflatable bowel - yes, you heard right - and to see how a specially adapted car works for disabled people.

And, one of the most favourite fun things to do, I'm sure, will be free pats with a Therapy Dog.

In the St Brelade's Parish Hall which is also on the harbourside there's an Affordable Art Show, with all the proceeds of sales going to the charities involved in the Kindness Festival.

Because of the COVID19 pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions, for the charities taking part, this will be the first time many of them will have had a chance to meet the public face-to-face and there will be loads of smiles all round.

Now, you might be wondering why I know so much about this event.

Well, it's because over the past few months I've been helping the organiser, Brian Clarke, to promote the event. And I shall be there, in the sunshine, to help out!

As you'll know if you've been following my daily blog since the start of the year, at the end of March I lost my job with the BBC so I've been doing a few writing and PR jobs in the past months. And the Kindness Festival popped up quite early. In my previous life as a radio producer and presenter I worked with Brian and covered the three previous Kindness Festivals, including interviewing and reporting from the festival itself.

It's been fun being involved again, from a different perspective, and it also fits in perfectly with another new project that's on the cards for me.

A few years ago I wrote a fun book with a friend of mine - Debbie Duncan. 'Lifelines' is the story of two friends sharing laughter, challenges, and cake and now I'm writing another book with Debbie ... and it's all about ..... KINDNESS!

Forgive me if over the next few months as I enter the final quarter of this year-long blog, I mention kindness a few more times.

I'm doing lots of reading about kindness and doing interviews and chatting to people, and in fact today at the Kindness Festival I'll also be doing just that! What a great opportunity to have loads of kind people in one place to chat to!

Kindness is freeIf I didn't know it already, I'm learning kindness is something that really defines us as humans. Anthropologists believe kindness is the strongest possible proof of our common humanity. Co-operation is the reason why, anthropologists believe, humanity has evolved and developed over more than 600 centuries.

All the science aside, of course we also know that kindness makes a difference, not just to those who are on the receiving end of kindnesses, whether they are 'random' acts or not, but also it affects the person who is GIVING the kindness. 

When you do something good for someone, it makes YOU feel great. To see someone else's smile is amazing.  Hopefully we're not kind to others to make OURSELVES feel good, but it can be a side effect.

Performing acts of kindness, with no thought of a return will, bit by bit, act by act, prove life-changing for giver and receiver alike.

We can all make a difference – and we can all help to change to the world! 

Today we'll celebrate kindness, and all those people who do so much to share kindness and make our world a better place, but kindness is something we can all do ... it costs nothinbut it is a great gift!

Be Kind to each other everyone!

And it you're in Jersey today ... we'd love to see you at the Kindness Festival!

 

 


Remembering Roy

Today I'm remembering a great man!

I was privileged to meet him just once ... as a young reporter in Jersey I interviewed him because he was the star of the annual summer parade - The Jersey Battle of Flowers.

Roy Castle was a HUGE personality, a star of stage, screen and TV -  musician, singer, comedian, actor, dancer and television presenter - he was a true legend.

Many will remember him because for years he became well known to British TV viewers as the presenter of the children's series Record Breakers

But before that he was well known for his roles on stage, television and film and because of his amazing musical talent - he was an accomplished jazz trumpet player but he could play many other musical instruments. He was also a person of great Christian faith and a family man - years after that meeting with Roy I actually got to know his wife Fiona ... what a lovely family!

I'm thinking about Roy today because it was on this day - September 2nd - in 1994, that he passed away aged just 62. I remember the shock of hearing about his death ... he had lung cancer but he had never smoked. He blamed his illness, which was diagnosed a couple of years earlier, on passive smoking during his years of playing the trumpet in smoky jazz clubs.

Roy was brave. Even in his final months and with his health declining he continued to work hard, including on the high-profile Tour of Hope to raise funds for the erection of the building that would become the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the only British charity dedicated solely to defeating lung cancer.  Fiona continued to work with the charity after her husband's death, and campaigned for the British smoking ban which came into effect in Northern Ireland in 2004, Scotland in 2006 and England and Wales in 2007, banning smoking in virtually all enclosed public places.

What a legacy!

Sometimes when you meet your heroes, it's a disappointment because they turn out not to be the person you think they are.

But when Roy Castle came to Jersey in 1988 to be 'Mr Battle' at our island's annual floral parade, the highlight of the summer season, the Jersey Battle of Flowers - there was no disappointment.

He was JUST as lovely as I thought he would be. He was jolly and kind, and smiling. A consummate professional and actually a really nice chap. I  interviewed him for the local TV station - Channel TV (ITV) - and filmed him during the Afternoon and the evening Moonlight parades. I saw first hand how hard he worked and how brilliant he was with the public, and us media! There was no 'stardom' about him really - he was full of fun and laughed and chatted to anyone and everyone. People loved him!

That same year - 1988 - Roy presented a TV series for the ITV network which was also close to my heart.

Marching as to warIt was called 'Marching as to War' and it told the story of The Salvation Army, it's founders William and Catherine Booth, and explored all sorts of aspects of the work and music of the global church and charity Christian movement.

For me, as a young Salvationist and someone who was working in television at the time, it was exciting to see my church and it's history being shared with the world, and I was thrilled that Roy Castle - so empathetic and compassionate - presented that series of programmes and was able to bring something of his own personal Christian faith to the project. And I know, from talking to people who were in that series with him (some of whom I can still recognise on the films) that Roy was a pleasure and joy to work with!

A few years after the programmes went out I found myself living in Norwich where the series was made by Anglia TV. By the late 90's I was actually working in the network religious department at Anglia ITV. It felt like a circle was complete.

The whole 'Marching as to War' series is available on YouTube, thanks to my friend Rob Westwood-Payne, who also hails from Norwich and who is  now a Salvation Army officer, or minister.

Some of the footage is now rather dated. Times have changed ... among other things, the uniforms are different and some of us don't wear uniforms at all these days ... and of course the world has altered around us. 

But the message of Booth and his life-altering mission movement remains as strong today as back in 1988 when the series was made, and in 1865 when William Booth first set up his East London Christian Mission, which in 1878 would be renamed The Salvation Army.

So - if you have half an hour to spare - why not  sit back and enjoy this episode?

It's the one where Roy tells us all about 'Soup, Soap and Salvation' - one of the key message of the early Salvation Army ...

 




Wellbeing Wednesday

How are you feeling today?

Is this a Wellbeing Wednesday for you?

I'm reminded that for a few years when I was the presenter of the BBC Radio Jersey Afternoon Show, an hour every Wednesday was devoted to subjects related to our  health and wellbeing. It was a really interesting hour, with different subjects and guests talking about all sorts of issues.

We covered physical as well as mental health, and explored alternative medicines and measures that people employ to keep themselves well. I learned a lot.

When you are working on a daily show, I soon discovered that to sustain the programme day in and day out, I needed some sort of  'structure'.

Planning ahead is vital. It can be unbelievably exhausting if you arrive at work every day with no idea about what is going to happen and how you're are going to fill your programme. If every day of the working week is a struggle to fill space, it's just so stressful! Andin the long term, that's certainly not good for your wellbeing! Putting a little plan together can actually keep you well!

It's also depressing if you keep getting knock-backs and disappointments, but the truth is ... ringing possible guests and contributors at say 10am asking them to chat to you live on the radio at for example, 3pm, can result in constant refusals. Believe it or not people have lives and work, and not everyone can just drop everything to have a chat with a radio host, not unless they have an urgent need to do so.

Yes I'm aware that lots of media people think the world revolves around us ... why WOULDN'T everybody just pause their lives to be on the radio in half an hour's time? But the truth is, life is not like that! We have to work around others. 

Yes, there's always flexibility, of course, because it might be something happens that day that you need to respond to during the show. But mostly you can plan most of your guests and subjects in advance and work around them if you need to.

The trick when you're working on a long running production - and I have worked for many years not just in radio but in (live and recorded) television so I think I know what I'm talking about - is to have a plan and even a 'schedule'!

You can look ahead and see if one day in particular is an important date or anniversary  in the calendar ... you could book guests to reflect that. You can source guests who might have an event planned, and you can think of ideas for what we call 'stranding' - subjects which pop up regularly which you can plan in advance, featuring issues you think might interest your listeners. These can be pre-planned.

This 'stranding' also means that people tuning in to your show may feel that they have an 'appointment to listen' if they want to. They know that a subject may be coming up at a certain time, on a specific day of the week. If you're running a 'series' you may want to run it around the same time every week so that people know to listen in!

I know what you're saying ... 'well you can always play another song or run some sort of survey or competition where it's mostly YOU chatting'?

Yes, that's true, but BBC local radio in the UK is supposed to be predominantly 'talk' and based in the community, featuring local conversations which interest local people. Well that was the original intention and aim anyway. The BBC is not a' commercial' station or set of stations which rely on mostly music. 

Anyway, although I loved playing music on the radio, when I was presenting I'd much rather chat to someone else who is far more interesting than me rather than just wittering on into the microphone about myself, the things I've been up to, the people I've met, the places I've visited or are connected to and the things I'm interested in. Giving a little of yourself is important, but not too much I always think!

We can all  be rather self-centred, it's true, and we would often rather talk about ourselves than let others speak. Maybe many of us would rather push our own ideas than listen to the other person. If you're at a party, how often do you find yourself chatting about what YOU are up to, or YOUR opinions on a matter, rather than being quiet and letting others talk and finding out about what they are doing? It's all part of the skill of  'Active Listening' which I was blogging about last week.

And as I said at the top, apart from anything else, when you talk to different people, you learn SO much! 

And I believe it's never too late to learn!

It takes a lot of work to put together an interesting radio programme every day, especially when you're working either alone and producing your own show or working with a very small team. Researching subjects so you can ask sensible questions is important, I think.

Some presenters don't do that. They go into an interview rather unprepared, relying on stuff they 'think' they already know,  and so often it can become more about pushing their own thoughts on the issue. It's more about THEM than the subject and the person they are talking to! 

Wellbeing Wednesday acrosticAnyway, back to Wellbeing Wednesday on the radio!

This acrostic reminded me of it and today I share it with you ... and hope you will be inspired.

Wellbeing Wednesday on the radio wasn't MY idea, rather it came from a fabulous young producer who I was working with at the time - Emma-Jayne - and she did most of the legwork on the series, booking guests, compiling those all important notes, introducing me to some of the wonderful people in Jersey who are part of the 'wellbeing' community. 

Of course, lots of people choose to concentrate on this issue in the middle of the week ... which for many is also called 'Wellness Wednesday' ...  so it was a great fit.

It was a lovely time for me, working with EmJay ... what a privilege to share office and studio space and ideas with someone so fabulous!!! We bounced off each other and it was glorious!

The Afternoon Show as originally envisaged (1-4pm) is now no more ... the schedules have changed, different people are in place. Actually the focus of BBC local radio is changing in some respects although I hope the 'localness' will never be entirely lost.

But I will always remember Wellbeing Wednesday with fondness and in fact the idea did gain another life, because until the COVID19 pandemic hit us, every Wednesday a group of  local wellbeing practitioners were setting up stall in Jersey's main town of St Helier, sharing their expertise and experience.  All under the 'Wellbeing Wednesday' banner!

And who knows, that idea might continue yet? I haven't given up on it entirely ... 

Maybe .... Watch this Space!

Meanwhile, if you have a moment,  I invite you to read the attached message. Perhaps read it a few times and feel inspired and motivated.

Have a Well Day everyone!

 

 


Active Listening

A few years back I was working full time at a BBC local radio station - BBC Radio Jersey in the Channel Islands - and I was privileged to present and produce the Afternoon Show.

It was a live three hour programme Monday to Friday and it was really all about music and local conversations. I loved it.

I chatted to people every day about things they were doing in our island, those making a difference in our community, hearing people's stories. Perfect.

SO - here's a question - what do you think is the solution for a good, or even a great interview?

Well, good presenters and interviewers don't just chat to people, they also LISTEN.

As part of my BBC training, we were encouraged to become 'ACTIVE LISTENERS'!

'Active Listening' is a communications technique which can be employed in all sorts of settings including counselling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts. It needs concentration, and it requires the listener to pay attention, try to understand, respond and remember what is being said in a  conversation, not just in the language and spoken word but also in the intonation of the speaker's voice and visual, non-verbal cues ... body language. That can reveal so much about a person.

For journalistic purposes, it's really about developing the skill to ... well ... LISTEN! 

Yes, of course you go into an interview with a fistful of questions, based on your research of the subject, but actually the most interesting interviews often result when the presenter or reporter responds to something that the interviewee might have just said. And that means you have to listen carefully to the guest and allow them to explain more, not just move onto your next question which drives YOUR news agenda.

Apart from anything else, when you don't listen to your guest, you miss opportunities to explore issues you never thought would crop up. And that's exciting! Well I think it is. I love doing interviews which go to places I hadn't prepared for. Then it DOES become more about the subject rather than the presenter, because if you are exploring a subject, you are doing that along with your listeners.

It means you have to sometimes stop asking direct and possible confrontational questions and ask more 'open' questions, perhaps more rhetorical questions which allow the guest to explain rather than just discuss. Phrases like 'can you explain that a bit more to us?' or 'how does that work?' or 'what might happen if ...?' are those types of 'open questions' and you'll only get to those if you listen REALLY carefully to what someone is saying. 

Of course, there are times and there are programme which do require a slightly more confrontational approach. Maybe calling people in power, including politicians, to account. News programmes often do that - short interviews where the presenters just fire questions at the interviewees. But even then there's opportunity for listening.

How many times have you been watching or listening to a news programme and the guest has said something really interesting which then appears to be completely ignored by the host? It probably means the presenter is running out of time to ask all their pre-prepared questions ... the questions they think are most important, and those which they hope will get them a 'newsline' which they can put into the news bulletins later.

When it comes to Active Listening, not every broadcaster gets it, or wants to get it.

Being an Active Listener and responding to your guests means that you may have to relinquish your own personality and your own agenda to some respect and allow subjects to flow. To recognise that actually the interview is more about the guests and their experiences, rather than YOU.

Not every presenter will want to do that because they truly believe that the listeners tune in to hear THEM rather than their guests. Well, maybe some do listen in to 'celebrities' but my experience is that most people out there quickly tire of the mouthy, self opinionated broadcasters. 

The joy of the Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Jersey for me is that we had TIME to discuss issues. We could drop a song if the conversation went down another road and became more interesting.  And every day I tried to practice 'Active Listening'.

Active listeningAnd the skill can also inform your daily life.

We can all be 'Active Listeners'.

If we stop making it all about US and perhaps a little bit more about listening to others, we discover more about others. We may actually learn things we didn't know.

More importantly, there are many people who are alone, who rarely talk to others, and sometimes those people want and need to talk, to express themselves, tell someone else about what they've been up to, and maybe to share their ideas, or even their fears. The elderly and others who maybe live alone who want to talk not just be 'talked at'.

If, when we meet them, we just impose our own opinions on them and don't allow them to express themselves in any meaningful way, we rob them of the joy of conversation. 

'Active Listening' does mean giving something of ourselves away. To maybe allow silence between us ... that's hard because we don't like silence, we think it needs to be filled. But when you allow someone to maybe stop and be thoughtful, and pick up their thoughts without interruption ... it can be really rewarding for everyone.

When you actively listen you maybe have to deliberately stop yourself jumping in to close the gap in conversation, or to give your own opinion. You might have to stop yourself saying stuff like 'oh that's just like me.' or 'yeah, that happened to me too...' followed by YOUR story rather than allowing them to tell you THEIR story. 

It doesn't mean we have to become completely passive, or even stifle our own personality. It doesn't mean we shouldn't take people to task if they are saying something that is unacceptable, unhealthy, disrespectful or 'false'. It just means allowing others the privilege of talking without interruption. 

We are all inclined to be a bit self-centred and to believe that our stories or thoughts or opinions are more important than anyone else's. So becoming an 'active listener' can be hard work. It goes against our natural inclinations.

But when we start, I believe a whole new world of communication opens up.

So today, if you're up for it, maybe give it a go.

Why not try to be ... an 'Active Listener'?

 

 

 

 

 


Flowers Flowers Everywhere

Today in Jersey should have been Battle Day.!

Let me explain. Today the seafront in our main town of St Helier should have been crowded for the annual Jersey Battle of Flowers, a spectacularly colourful parade featuring dozens of 'floats' all covered in flowers, along with dancers and music, costumes and smiles.

Battle of FLowers Prix d'Honneur 2019I first went to the Battle parade as a child and later in life I would not just attend, but work at it for the local Jersey media - writing for the local newspaper, recording for the local TV station and latterly, I was down in the arena broadcasting live to the island via the local BBC radio station! What a joy!

The history of the parade goes back to 1902, when a parade was organised to  celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It was so popular that the event was repeated the following year and then it became an annual event and a great tourist attraction. It's a Jersey tradition!

The best thing about the Battle is that it's 'homegrown'.

Over the years I've spoken to masses of people who give their lives to the parade, spending many months of the year planning and building the gorgeous floats, organising costumes and dances and music, ordering flowers and then covering every millimetre of those fantastic constructions with the blooms - most real, some paper - in preparation for the big day.  For many people, Battle is a way of life especially in the Jersey parishes, who create the biggest floats which sail up and down Victoria Avenue on the day and who compete for the big prizes! Yes it's beautiful and it's competitive! 

For many years it's not just been the Afternoon Parade on the second Thursday in the month of August, but also a Moonlight Parade on the Friday, when the flower festooned floats are re-imagined in colourful lights. Now that's a spectacle to behold. It's just awe-inspiring!

This year, however, for the second year running, the Battle of Flowers is off, thanks to the COVID19 pandemic. Previously it was war that prevented the parade, now this ghastly virus not only prevents us gathering in huge numbers safely to celebrate Battle, but it also means that the people who MAKE the parade and the floats haven't been able to meet across the year to plan and build.

I know the Jersey Battle of Flowers organisers desperately hope that we will be back on track next year, so let's pray for that!

So I'm thinking about flowers today, and this fabulous quote which is attributed to Lady Bird Johnson

Where flowers bloom

"Where flowers bloom, so does hope,”

We can't but help feel happy when we see and experience flowers, especially colourful blooms. The spectacle of those flowery floats IS the most amazing feeling. Knowing that people have created the exhibits with such love is also inspiring!

Flowers represent life and energy, and love.

Why is it that often if we want to show our love, we buy flowers or blooming plants? It's because they remind us that life is good, there are better times ahead. Whatever life may throw at us, the flowers in our lives WILL  bloom again, and we will come through the trials.

The Battle of Flowers WILL be back, the colourful floats will grace the seafront in St Helier again, the people who love the tradition will once again produce those wonderfully ornate and imaginative creations!

Roll on August 2022!

Oh - and if you want to see what the parade was like last time it was held ... on the second Thursday in August of 2019 ... here's how the local ITV station reported it! This programme includes some of the people who make the magic, as well as the parade itself. Ok, so the weather was a bit dull, but it was still a wonderful day!  

 


Just for Today

Today is the final day of the first part of the 2020 Summer Olympics events in Tokyo.

Yes I know what you're thinking ... it's 2021! But of course, the Games last year were postponed because of the COVID19 global pandemic so everything is happening a year later than expected.

Although I've not been 'glued' to the TV during the past fortnight I have enjoyed a lot of the coverage, even of sports I am not particularly interested in. I've watched some of the 'newer' Olympic sports like BMX cycling and skateboarding and been befuddled by events like the cycling 'Madison' (a complicated relay race where the riders 'tag' each other) and the  'Keirin' (weird sprinting race). Got to say I've not watched much of the boxing or judo or weightlifting, although well done to everyone who takes part in those.

The athletics is always a roller coaster and I'm in awe that people can run or jump or throw that fast and high and far. And as for the gymnastics - well that's always incredible and full of tension and awe-inspiring feats of brilliance by those young men and women who throw themselves around with abandon.  Although I have to say I'm still a bit perplexed as to why the women gymnasts have to 'dance' their floor exercises and for the men it's just the amazing tumbles. 

But for me, the most exciting Olympic sports are those that happen primarily in the first week of the Summer Olympics in the water and the pool! It seems like the swimming is closest to my heart, and one which I can most relate to. Not that I could even get close to those times but when I see those swimmers diving in and ploughing up and down the pool and then touching the end of the pool as the race finishes, I can turn back time to my own very limited competitive swimming years.

A long time ago now ... 

Which brings me to the Summer Olympics of 1972

I was 13 and it's my first memory of watching the Olympics on the TV.

The Games were held in Munich in Germany ... and unfortunately that festival of sport has gone down in history for a tragic event rather than the brilliant sportsmen and women and their achievements, because in the second week the Games made the news after a terrorist attack in the Olympic Village in which eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer were killed by Palestinian Black September terrorists.

But for me it's also memorable because it's when I first heard of and saw an amazing swimmer - Mark Spitz from the USA.

He won seven gold medals in the pool, all in world record time. That record stood for 36 years until fellow American Michael Phelps came along and won eight golds at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

Actually, Mark Spitz won nine Olympic golds, a silver, and a bronze between 1968 and 1972, along with many many other awards at national and global level. And for several years (1969, 1971 and 1972) he was named Swimming World Magazine World Swimmer of the Year.

WHAT A LEGEND!

I was absolutely inspired. At the time I was doing a lot of swimming and even competing and he was my hero! Ok so he was also a good looking young man ... that helped to make him more attractive to a young teen ... so it is no surprise that, along with pop stars like Donny Osmond, I had a poster of Mark on my bedroom wall!

Spitz retired from competitive swimming after the 1972 Olympics, has become a motivational speaker and much more and there are loads of quotes from him online, including thoughts about that terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team ... as a person of Jewish faith, those murders of his fellow athletes would have been particularly shocking!

Mark SpitzLots of his 'thoughts' about swimming and winning have been taken out of context, of course, but I found this one from the man which is especially interesting, at least for me.

The idea of living in the moment - for today -  is something I think we can all consider.

I don't know about you but I can be inclined to worry too much about what is to come, things that I can't control, and I lose the joy of just BEING!

And sometimes that concern can stress me out and prevent me from performing as I know I am able.

For elite sportsmen and women, I'm guessing that being in the moment, doing the best they can given all their hard work and training, is all they can do. 

During the coverage of some of the Olympic events I've noticed some of the athletes obviously thinking themselves through what they are going to do. The high-jumpers, for instance, seem to turn their head and even move their arms and hands as they envisage the jump that is to come.  They are committed to that moment in time.

I love to watch tennis and I often hear the 'expert' commentators, including former champions, explain that it's important not to get ahead of oneself but to treat each point separately. If you think 'this one will win me the match/make me the champion' it can lose you that crucial point because you take your eye 'off the ball' ... literally! You are too busy thinking about what is to come rather than that moment in time.

This way of mindful thinking ... being in the moment ... doesn't mean we shouldn't PREPARE for the future ... of course we should! If sportsmen and women didn't put the leg work in then they would not be in a place to compete ... but the ability to just put all else aside and concentrate on THIS MOMENT IN TIME, to perform to the best of their ability, is an example to us all.

Of course we must all work hard to ensure we are all prepared for the crucial moments in our lives, but being able to live for that one moment, to concentrate and to focus ... is a skill we could all try to achieve.

In a week or so time we will be treated to the 'second half' of the Summer Olympics 2020 and the Paralympic Games, again from the Japanese capital city, which are, I think, even more inspiring than the events featuring the able bodied.

It's always unbelievably inspiring to see people who have dealt with so much in their lives push themselves to their limits, smash records, make themselves and their nation proud and just excel at the very highest level.

But for today I'm taking inspiration from one of heroes - the AMAZING Mark Spitz - and this thought. 

The ability to not worry endlessly about the future, to enjoy today, to look around and relish this moment ... that's important for me as I grow older.

As I said, it's a long time since Mark Spitz made it onto my bedroom wall. As a young person it's important to have people to look up to. And he is part of my life journey.

So thanks to you, Mark Spitz!

May you continue to inspire!




 


All we need is Love

Here's another one of my 'favourite films' moments.

Ok, so it's a bit unseasonal ... but today I'm thinking about the 2003 movie Love Actually.

It's associated with Christmas, of course, because it's set in that season. But as the title indicates, it's all really about love.

Love in different forms, unrequited love, love which is not returned, love which is complicated, people showing love and sharing love, love at different stages of life.

I love it!

Why am thinking about this ... in July?

Well it's not to do with the whole 'Christmas in July' thing, I can assure you!

No it's because there's a song in the movie, near the start of the film, which is one of my favourites.

And it was released as a single this day - July 7th - in 1967.

All you need is loveI'm talking, of course, about All you Need is Love, from the 'Fab Four' - the Beatles!

Although it was written by John Lennon, it was credited to the Lennon–McCartney song-writing partnership. Lennon apparently deliberately wrote lyrics that were simple because the song was actually written not just for the British market, but for s specific global event and it needed to have international appeal.

All you Need is Love was Britain's contribution to Our World, the world's first live global TV special. The Beatles were filmed performing the song at EMI Studios in London on 25 June 1967 and the programme was broadcast via satellite, and seen by over 400 million people in 25 countries. 

It's one of those songs that's in our psyche and in our history. It's certainly in mine.

Many of us can just sing along. It's a song which with the constant repetition of the chorus 'All you need is love' .. has a powerful message. And it's not about love we can't attain. It's about doing everything with love.

I mentioned that on Sunday, but it's definitely worth the repetition. 

So - combining one of my favourite songs, with a favoured movie... here it is - as featured in Love Actually.

It's a strong reminder of something that's really important, and which - if we all just tried to love a little bit more -  could change the world.