Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

I am ashamed to call myself a Journalist

On Saturday 31st October, at 1.30am, my 22-year-old eldest daughter Polly was killed when she lost control of the car she was driving and hit a tree. She was alone in her VW Beetle, no one else was hurt and, I am told, it was instant.

I can tell you that having lost my father as a child, other close family members along the timeline of life and having said many times ‘on air’ that losing a child must be the worst thing of all, it is. It really is. It’s not a grief ‘competition’ it just is. Losing a child is the worst thing of all.

Polly’s mother Sarah and her dad Simon, who brought Polly up from the age of 3 and did such a brilliant job, are broken by this, as are all our families. My eldest son, Polly’s brother Oliver, is broken too but one of the few comforts I am taking at the moment is what a fine, brave, courageous man he has become. Again his mother Sarah and dad Simon deserve all the credit.

It is Simon, Polly’s dad, who has prompted me to write this blog. I am Polly and Oliver’s father, Simon is their dad. That is always the language we use, though Ollie and Polly always call me dad when we are together. Language is vital if we are to understand who we are and what we do.

The news of my daughter’s death, because of the nature of the work I used to do (I know I will never be the same again) and who I am engaged to means that there is some media interest in me with the local and national newspapers and TV. Those who know me well will know that I never, ever wanted to be the story, just to tell or share the story, as a journalist, correctly. I have never wanted to be on TV, I don’t want to be known, perhaps just be known of, to do my job well and to help people if I can and to get to the truth for others.

As all the family came together on Monday morning to start the process of making arrangements for Polly, I was contacted by the BBC for a quote about her. There has been quite a reaction to the news, because of me, with many kind words paid in tribute to my daughter and kindness shown towards me from those who listen and maybe even enjoy what I do daily on the radio. I gave the BBC ‘the line’, agreeing it while on the ‘phone to them with Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon hearing me do this. I wanted the quote, the tribute to come from Sarah, Polly’s mum, who did such a brilliant job in bringing our daughter up with Simon. The name order was also agreed to be ‘Sarah, her husband Simon Bosworth and John Darvall’. I was clear.

On Monday night, on Points West the local BBC News opt for the West, none of this happened in their broadcast about Polly. Simon was called Polly’s ‘stepdad’, a phrase we have NEVER used. Simon, Polly’s dad was straight on the phone to me. He was rightly furious and more. This journalistic failure significantly added to his pain, and to mine. To hear Polly’s dad rage at you about your profession, about the things you have clearly agreed whilst standing in his family home just hours before when our daughter has been killed…words fail me. This poor piece of journalism made Tuesday probably the worst day of this whole episode so far. This includes seeing our dead daughter in a hospital mortuary just 12 hours after she was killed.

Newspapers have contacted me and provided appallingly written articles, which I have had to change, ‘polish’ or make actual sense of. Other papers have published articles using my personal relationship as ‘the in line’, when this is NOT the story but, at best, just a very small part of the story. This has hurt many who are in the throes of grief. Other papers have just published without checking and have got facts wrong. See earlier blogs. One paper spliced a year off my age. I will take that!

The way we all consume news is changing. The way we share news has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information? The internet allows us to come to our own conclusions by checking our own facts. We really can’t trust the traditional outlets to do it right or properly.

I write this as a father who has lost a daughter. I write this as a journalist who loved his work but can now clearly see why so many have lost faith in his profession and traditional media. They, we and I have brought this on ourselves.

I also write this to set the record straight for Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon. I am ashamed to call myself a journalist and I am truly sorry to have added to your grief. I have spoken to Simon and he knows I have written this.

Two bits of advice for you reading this, if I may:

Trust nothing you read or watch. Check it, at least twice, as it’s more than likely wrong from just a single source.

Love your children and loved ones. Properly love them. Tell them every day, make sure they know that you love them regardless of what might be happening. Nothing is more important than that.

Time to grow up Master W W Web

The internet is a quarter of a century old and has changed our lives in ways few could have imagined, including those who created it. From the desk top to the lap top, from the tablet to the smart phone and Smart TV if it’s not connected and you are not connected then what is the point? None. The next big thing is the ‘Internet Of Things’ and we are all nodding in agreement, hurtling to a brave new digital world. But are were actually understanding it or taking a breath to consider whether we should?

The Internet we know now has gone through many evolutions since the switch was first flicked in 1989. The chirpy chirp of dial-up and websites that took forever to load to the revelation of broadband to the expectations of ‘I want it NOW’ super fast broadband. What next? Wicked Super fast broadband with gold bar and oak leaf cluster? Whatever it will be it will never now be enough and the next change will be but moments away. You will have just got your head around all the latest technology and wallop it is all new, again.

The Internet is truly democratic, as intended from the outset. It’s beyond government control and even those governments that try to control it fail. The Internet and it’s offspring Social Media are also home and voice to the angry, unhinged or obsessed. On line they can be found venting their frustrations, conspiracy theories and hounding their victims. There are those who seek to expose others a la Ashley Madison. The Internet gives form and expression to anyone who wants to use it with very few consequences to the user. The target, on the other hand, can be all but destroyed. Some who have been targeted and trolled on-line have taken their own lives. I’m pretty sure Sir Tim Berners-Lee didn’t envisage that back in 1989 when the World Wide Web began.

The Ashley Madison hack and subsequent ‘data dump’ is a very interesting moment for the web. It’s not that all personal data taken and now available to anyone with a computer. No. This is proof once again how vulnerable we are by putting such personal data on-line in the first place. If you think putting anything on-line is safe then you’re a fool.

Millions use the web for sex and, of course, there is a ‘dark Internet’ because any market place will develop a black market. The big and very real digital problem is our reliance on the web combined with our trusting nature. This hacking event shows us all what will be our undoing. Next time it could be Facebook, Twitter or your bank.

If you want to have an affair, sex or watch some weird stuff on-line then it really is all but a click away. And you’re not alone in doing that either. Some of those clicks are illegal and those who do make them to watch stuff illegally or view stuff that is illegal should face the full force of the law. The rest of us? Maybe we need to think about what we are doing. Would you put up your name, address, email details and pictures of your children in the front window of the house for all the street to see? The internet is way bigger than you front window and you can never take it down.

So how to make the Internet grow up? Simple. Remove the ability to have any fake identity that so many wish to hide behind when on-line. I would admire those who hacked Ashley Madison and what they are trying to achieve if they were actually brave enough to put their real names to their cause. Whatever you may think of the alleged rapist Julian Assange, still hiding out in fear in a London embassy broom cupboard refusing to face justice, at least he has he put his name to his on-line work with Wikileaks. Same can also be said for Edward Snowdon, although I don’t think he’s been a ‘naughty boy’ too, allegedly. You may not agree with what they did but they did put their name to their actions. If you are going to cry freedom and free speech then you have the courage to put your name to it otherwise it’s not free. If you believe it, stand by it with your name.

The simplest way to make the Internet grow up would be to make everyone have a real profile using their real name and details. No more hiding, no more trolling and no more extremism, vile intent and perversion hiding behind a shroud of anonymity, freedoms and, ultimately, sheer bloody cowardice.

‘I think y’know’

The current Labour leadership contest has thrown up many interesting moments not least the man who only just made it to be nominated is, according to those ever reliable polls, leading the field. Those who nominated him weren’t expecting that, only doing so to widen the leadership debate. Now many in Labour are crying foul because Jeremy Corbyn is doing just that. Watching and listening to the Labour leadership debate is both refreshing and 600,000 people getting involved can’t be a bad thing, even if some are making mischief.

Whatever your flavour or colour of politics any government needs a strong opposition. Democracy needs opposition or it doesn’t work and some very bad things start to happen. Look at Syria as a very painful, worrying case in point. The point of opposition is to oppose and give credible, thought out alternatives. As those alternatives are debated it makes the government up its game and we get better governance and a choice, a real and actual choice. We may even get something to believe in too.

What the last election proved was the ‘centre ground’ is not what many want, as to have a centre you need to have two points to know where it actually is. We didn’t have those two real opposing points. As a result other parties flourished although they are now not fairly represented in our first past the post system. Can it be fair that 4 million voted for UKIP and they got one MP and 1.5 million voted for the SNP and they got 56 MPs?

Whoever gets the Labour leadership we all need them to be an effective opposition, to hold the government to account. We need Labour to come up with ideas and policies that inspire, to raise the debate and our interest in politics for all our sakes. But there is a bigger issue.

Our political class, both locally and nationally, seem to lack any real ideas and vision. There are some obvious examples of those who do but the majority don’t, hence the disinterest and our contempt in our leaders and elected representatives. The evidence? Simple. When you hear them speak you will hear two key ‘tells’; ‘I think’ and ‘y’know’, as in ‘i think the NHS needs reform’ or worse ‘y’know, I think the NHS is the best in the world’. If our politicians need to think then they can do it in their offices or one of their many homes. When they talk to us through interviews or through parliamentary debate I want them to know.

I want our politicians to have arrived at some certainty, a clear vision and conviction and not to be still thinking about whatever it is they are talking about. And, y’know, ‘y’know’ is just lazy and shows a lack of clarity too. I don’t know, I’m waiting for you to inform me so I can make my own mind up, so I can decide who or what is best to make the big stuff happen. That is why I have elected you, to do this for me so I can live my life knowing that you know, that you are doing the thinking about it and then when know you tell me. I want to know our elected representatives are certain in their purpose, having informed me at the election their thought out intentions.

Currently our elected representatives keep putting it all back on us, maybe we so we can’t hold them to account for it. That is not part of the deal in a liberal democracy. The rise of the consultation is the weak answer to a lack of certain vision. It’s crept in from weak management and leadership in business. It’s the ‘I don’t know despite being elected/paid the big bucks/being somehow put in charge, so I will put it back to you, and then when it goes wrong it’s your fault not mine’ mentality of our decade.

Leaders lead, they tell us their already thought out vision and then do it, with our democratic support. Leaders don’t expect us to know ‘y’know’ because if we did know then we wouldn’t need them.

In the next few months we can only hope that when the silly season is over, the summer holidays are done and the political pondering is complete we have an effective government and an effective, vibrant opposition. This might get us all involved in the process more as we may have leaders who thoughts lead to conclusions, policies and actions.

You never know, y’know.

The Chilli Challenge for M.E

I have done the #chillichallenge for ME. Ouch. Now you do it. John   

Doctor, Doctor give me the news 24/7

This week the Government made it clear that it wants a 7 day a week health service because it will give us the patients access to healthcare, at its best, 7 days a week. Why? We are more likely to die at the weekend, which ‘statistics’ say will happen, because there aren’t enough doctors on the wards. Apparently the worst day to be admitted to hospital is Sunday. Imagine ending up in hospital on the ‘day of rest’ and finding a notice on the door saying closed until 8am Monday morning.

The stupidity of thinking that a doctor, any doctor, can cure you on his or her own is beyond belief so the idea of stuffing hospitals with Consultants together with ‘junior doctors’ who include Registrars and F2’s and F1’s is potty. Consultant Medics or Surgeons are not gods, although some believe they are. They are part of a team and the head of that team. The collective experience and wisdom of that team is the key to your successful treatment. If the Consultant is there along with their full team every day then this will impact on the following. Training, development and the numbers of doctors actually available every day of the week. This will impact on patient care. So the answer is we need more doctors, 10,000 of them.

It takes at least 10 years to become a Consultant in the NHS. You can’t fast track being a surgeon or a medic. If you think you can then you or your loved ones can get treated by that fast tracked doctor. I will always go for the one who has a breadth of experience.

My ex-wife is a Consultant Surgeon, a published, peer-reviewed author and award-winning in her chosen specialty. She is, frankly, amazing but achieving all this has consumed her. It is only our two children that she has time for outside of medicine. Nothing else. It has taken her 15 years to get there and she has sacrificed much to do so. So have her colleagues. She already works weekends, every 6th weekend on call, day and night. I know what this means because I look after our children when she is on call. It does involve a ward round Saturday and Sunday, then staying in the hospital or going back to the hospital at ANY time day or night to do what she has trained for and has the extensive experience to do. Her colleagues also do this for the other five weekends. Her hospital is just like every other hospital in the UK at the weekend. It is full of highly qualified doctors.

To have a full 7 day NHS you also need theatre nurses, lab assistants, receptionists, porters, clinical support staff, administration staff, managers, district nurses, mental health services, public health departments at councils and more ALL to work 7 days a week. You will also buses, park and rides, trains, shops, schools, all to be properly 24/7 so Monday is no different from Sunday. If we all don’t recognise that Sunday is not Monday, why have it? If you really want health care to be 24/7 then we and it all has to be the same 24/7. Simply this means more doctors and more bus drivers too.

If 24/7 healthcare were as simple as just making Consultants work a full Saturday and Sunday they would already be doing it. And they already are.

I have one last question that government has yet to successfully answered. This may well be the starting point to all of this call for 24/7 healthcare. If you are prepared to sit in an Accident and Emergency department for 4 hours or more, just how bad is your accident or emergency?

What M.E? An update

Since Naomi and her family shared her story and her video together with the publishing of my blog on ME I have been astounded by the response. And shocked. And heartbroken. I have also learned that a very good friend of mine also lives with a mild form of ME and I’ve known them for 10 years. That is two people close to me who have ME. Coincidence or a painful reality? Why didn’t I know? How many more?

If you can take the time to read some of the comments to my original blog you may feel the same too. What has become clear to me is there is a whole world, more than just the potentially under estimate of 250,000 people in the UK, living with ME. Some of the comments and stories shared are uplifting, others may make you cry. The biggest issue is ignorance and belief in ME, and I include myself in this. To those who have criticised my blog thank you as you are right. I have a lot to learn. 

As a journalist, having talked, seen and listened to those with ME, I will do more to learn, educate and explore what can be done. In the coming weeks on the BBC radio programme I am privileged to do you will hear from those raising money to help diagnose, treat and maybe even cure ME. You will also hear from more from those who live with ME and from experts in pain management, where I hope they will take calls from anyone listening. I will let you know when all this is happening.

If there is something, anything else you feel I can do then post it on here. All ideas and insights will be considered by me and my very small but brilliant programme production team.

Thank you for sharing your stories and I will try to do what I can to raise the profile, expose and tell the story of ME with your help and support. 

What M.E?

In the last few weeks I have seen the best and the worst of what we are capable of. The worst was on a beach in Tunisia and those who died at the trigger of an Islamic Extremist gunman. This is only the beginning of this story from the country that seeded the Arab Spring. Tunisia and Europe will struggle to come to terms with the consequences of summer of 2015 and the biggest problems may have already begun. Any country that relies on tourists spending money for a significant part of its GPD is going to hurt as this cash tap is turned off. The financial pain that Tunisia will feel will be very easily harnessed by those who have no desire to encourage the West back with their flabby white bodies to its turquoise seas and sandy beaches. Maybe this is part of the terrorist plan? As ever social media will have its dark, digital hand in all this.

Yet something else has kept my hope alive and well.

Two weeks ago I went to see a 38 year old woman called Naomi at her home to interview her for my BBC radio programme. I don’t like doing what are known as a ‘pre-rec’ after a three hour live programme. I always feel ‘flat’ and feel I lack the ‘spark’ a live show and red ‘ON Air’ light gives me. After this interview I will never be so pathetic again.

Naomi has lived with M E, Myalgic Encephalopathy, for 25 years of her life. She went from being a bright, vibrant young girl to seriously ill in a matter of weeks. Now Naomi is barley able to get up from her bed for 20 minutes a day because of a virus and how her body reacted to it. When I knocked on the door to interview Naomi I knew little about M E. other than its dodgy reputation and the questions about whether it was actually a real illness. When I left Naomi’s parents home where she lives, having spoken to her, her mother and brother for an hour I cried.

I played the recorded interview out on my radio programme, put the video of Naomi’s story up on social media, lovingly made by her brother Tom, and thought that was it. I was wrong.

I am not a big fan of social media. It seems to be little more than a platform of inanity and fantasy. At it’s worst it is a vehicle of anger, hatred and allows those who delight at taking offense at anything to hide behind their made up names and say hurtful, stupid and ill-informed things without real consequence or responsibility. This is not to be confused with free speech. Free speech is saying what you feel or believe and having the courage to be seen standing up to say it. At its very worst social media is full of narcissists and the delusional with a worrying need ‘followers’ or ‘friends’, a mob of cowardly, unidentifiable cockwombles hiding, carping and hating.

Social media can also be a huge force for good; a force for change and it can give voice to those who don’t have one. Naomi’s story on the radio and  Naomi’s video story has revealed thousands like her who are suffering, thanks to social media.

I never knew how big a problem M E is. It is only through Naomi’s courage in giving what little energy she had in telling her story and allowing me to share her story that others now have a voice too. Thanks to Naomi others can get help and have hope. This includes my own stepsister who I never knew has M E until this week.

I will now do more to help others with this condition. M E is dreadful, debilitating illness that when it takes hold it never lets go. For Naomi, for all those living with chronic pain and M E, I will do more while I can. I will also use social media too because I can finally see what it can do rather than what it seems all too capable of doing now.

%d bloggers like this: