Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: BBC Bristol

What are you doing on 4th May?

This year the annual Star Wars “funny” date will have a serious and profound change to the way we are governed in the regions of England. We get to vote for a Metro Mayor, a “metro metro mayor, who wants to be a metro mayor?”… sorry, I went all Village People there.

This is election is rather important. A Metro Mayor will be responsible for key priorities in the English regions they are being elected, which will affect you every day. A Metro Mayor will be able to spend around a billion pounds of your money on these priorities over the next ten years. One Billion pounds. 10 years. Metro Mayors will be taking over these key responsibilities from the current local councils and authorities.

Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset along with South Gloucestershire councils have all come together with their 900,000 people to have a Metro Mayor for the West. You get to vote for the one you want on 4th May. So what will she or he actually be able to do for you and me?

Our West Metro Mayor will be responsible for planning, transport and education (apprenticeships) so you can expect that they will build more houses, more roads, improve rail and airport links plus create more jobs and encourage new businesses to come here with apprenticeships schemes. All good news. Well, not quite. There are some key problems with there being a Metro, Metro Mayor.

One. North Somerset are not part of it and Bristol Airport is on their patch. Will the other three council areas vote to hand over their Metro Mayor cash to support North Somerset and improve the links to the airport? North Somerset gain from this but North Somerset are autonomous, not having to answer to a Metro Mayor.

Two. North Somerset are going to be building more than 20,000 homes in the next ten years, some 6,000 more than they wanted to build. That’s central government for you. Those new residents are going to be drawn up the M5 to Bristol and Bath for work and play. That’s a lot of people using the region’s already struggling roads and public transport without any controls on them or where the homes will be built. Will all Metro Mayor spending stop dead at Gordano, like three lanes of caravans on a wet summer Saturday morning?

Three. The Metro Mayor’s spending money is £33m a year. This sounds like a lot when you look at the cuts our four councils are having to make. The new South Bristol link road, which took 18 months to build, is just over three miles long cost £45m. So, by that maths, our new Metro Mayor can build 2(ish) miles of road a year and that’s it. Of course he or she could use that money to borrow more money, which will happen, but this means a Metro Mayor will be more creating debt for the future.

Four. The actual election of the Metro Mayor. There is only one reason to vote in the West on May 4th this year and that is for a Metro Mayor. You will be voting for a new and an extra layer of government on top of our councils and between the West’s MP’s and Westminster. That is going to be a hard sell for all the political parties. The result will be an even harder sell if the turnout is low. Anything less than 20% turnout is going to look a bit rubbish.

As Nat “King” Cole once sang “there may be trouble ahead”. There may also be some answers to some of the key issues of the West on transport, housing and creation of new jobs in a fast changing jobs market. This may help the West with the back ground of both Brexit and a more protectionist United States. We live in a world where adding layers of government or management seems to be an answer. This often seems to be the result of those in charge who say they want to “remove” layers of government and management. Maybe this is a way of deflecting responsibility or maybe it’s a way of creating accountability?

You decide, on May 5th, if you vote on May 4th (be with you).

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Good Grief Polly

It has been exactly four weeks since my eldest daughter Polly was killed in a car crash. It has been just over two weeks since her funeral, which was attended by 480 people. We thought about 100 would come.

In my last blog I wrote about how my daughter’s death had been reported by the media. This included the BBC, an organisation I am proud to work for, love and yet worry about on a daily basis as it faces attacks on all sides. The BBC were accurate in their reporting of Polly’s death, even if they did not include all the information they had sought from the family. They have written to me and I feel for my colleagues who are among the best journalists I know. We can all learn from this. I will certainly be a better journalist for all this.

The newspapers however were not accurate. They lifted quotes from social media without checking the provenance or the facts, causing further distress. They made claims of contact to me and other family members when to date no evidence of this can be found. The Bristol Post published my blog, contacting the BBC press office to see if I was going to get the sack for it. The credited ‘reporter’ did tweet me in the afternoon prior to publication to try to speak to me. In the Bristol Post’s published ‘report’ on my blog it says I had ‘been spoken to’ by the BBC, with all the disciplinary tone this implies. The BBC have been nothing but supportive. Other papers produced articles that were poorly written, inaccurate, with questionable personal relevance and lacking in either fact or respect. Formal complaints have been made.

This first four weeks of grief has been, err, yes. I have been back to work at BBC Radio Bristol and although I am trying I am finding it very hard. The listeners have been brilliant and the staff, my team have been complete in their support. I always said to my two elder children that they should never go to bed on a Sunday dreading Monday because if you do then you really are in the wrong job. Stop. Change it. Go to bed fundamentally happy. I love what I do and I can only hope the joy will return too.

Sitting here four weeks to the day after Polly’s death I thought I would start to make a few changes to my life. I’ve been told this is a life-changing event and I can see it is. I’m not unique, nor is our family. Other children have died in many tragic ways. Death is life and grief is not a competition as there are no winners.

The first week was awful, truly awful but with moments of real, honest, heartfelt laughter. Laughter is vital. Gallows humour is essential. You can learn from grief. I believe that.

Talking with my family, my dearest friends, my partner and my boss at work has been a huge comfort. This small group of people have been extraordinary and have reminded of who I am when I still really have no idea who I am at the moment. They have all done their best to keep me from jumping off at the deep end.

I won’t go through each day as I don’t want to read it back next year and be reminded of it but I can tell you that the first Tuesday was the worst day so far. See earlier blog. Last Sunday was awful too but lead to a Monday that I felt better. The grief kicked me in the nuts again on Tuesday. Simply, no parent should carry his or her child’s casket into a funeral. I now know what is really meant by a dead weight.

So what have I learned so far?

Drinking really does not work. I am a drinker and a cigar smoker. Don’t rely on drink; rely on your family and friends. I will give up smoking.

Right any family wrongs when you can. Don’t ever let them fester. Right beats wrong as much as truth beats lies. Don’t think you can put things right later. There really is no time like now if it needs to be said or done.

Listen to those who know you; your colleagues, your friends, your partner and your family. You are not you when you are grieving but a version of you. They know you and they will help you do what you should be doing when you really are not you.

Ride the support, the love and the messages you will get. The social media world means that you will be swamped by it. Take it, scan it, save it and then in time you can come back to it.

Cry. When you feel the need to cry just let it out. Don’t hold it in. Don’t stiffen your upper lip. Don’t worry about where you are or whom you are talking to. Cry when it comes. You need to and perhaps others need to learn from you that it is okay to cry. Try not to suppress how you really feel. I find this very hard as it is changing a habit of a lifetime.

Try and eat. I’m failing at this one but trying too. I’m either a simple snack that gives me all I need to keep going or a lavish taster menu with fine wines sort of chap. Polly, I am told, was the same.

 

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.

Boozy Bristol after dark

It’s the Wild West out there on the streets of Bristol at night, especially at the weekend. Lawless, drunken, riddled with drugs, sex, all fueled by cheap booze and falling morality. It is the beginning of the end and every town is like it.

No. This is just plain wrong. I was wrong, the Sodom and Gomorrah image we are being sold is wrong. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, so said Franklin D Roosevelt and he would say the same about the streets of Bristol on a Saturday night, had he seen what I saw.

The reason I went out was to test the assertion that Bristol city centre is full of young, drunk, drugged people who are badly behaved and off their heads on drink. Alcohol costs the city millions in management and health issues; it causes many social problems and leads to crime and general lawlessness. Yes this may happen, but it is not the whole story. The late night economy in Bristol, with bars open until 5am and clubs closing at 6am is a result of changing attitudes, culture and laws. Bristol is responding to this and doing rather well because of it too.

The Habourside was my first port of call, a mixture of bars and restaurants all offering a differing propositions for the young and the not so young. I went into two of the bars and they were busy, happy places and both were a mixture of all ages. The door staff outside a bar on Park Street I spoke to earlier had told me that Habourside is where the Saturday nights out start, or on Corn Street. What I saw was a lot of people having a very good time, some quite loudly. And I saw a lot of young women, in groups, in black dresses moving, well more teetering on infeasible shoes from bar to bar. Then it changed.

As the night headed towards the witching hour the gender balance changed. It was men in a the majority, young men in their 20’ and early 30’s, loud and boisterous but I would venture no more loud than I was when I was that age, or Mods were in the 60’s or 80’s, or Teddy boys were in the 50’s. Twas ever thus? The bars were now full and ques forming inside and out, good-natured and patient.

Then it was off to College Green and Park Street, now much busier than when I walked down it earlier in the evening. Outside the bars young men and women were smoking and the sweet smell of cannabis that had intermittently wafted around me all night returned again. I spoke to a young girl who was celebrating her 19th birthday with two friends. She was out to get ‘wasted’. That was her answer to my question about how she would judge her night to be a good night. She was not alone. Another group said the same, so did a stag party in fancy dress outside The Hippodrome. They were walking by as theatre-goers left a performance by the French Ballet. Both were having their own versions of a good night. There was and is room for all.

As I walked up Park Street there were many young women dressed for the summer on a cold November night mixing with men in Christmas jumpers, stag and hen parties all queuing to get in to the bar or club they would stay in until they could drink no more. They jostled with each other and the on coming traffic. The more sober supported those who had peaked too soon. Many had peaked to soon or were about to start the final ascent of Mount Booze. By now every bar or club had long, good-natured ques and pavements were a mix of the happy, the merry and the drunk with small, trickling steaming streams emanating from dark shop doorways trickling down towards College Green.

Was it intimidating? No. Was it a night out I could enjoy? Yes. Did I feel safe? Yes. There was police visible on foot and horseback, every bar had door personnel, and the crowds were out for a good time and were mostly having one.

Here are my concerns.

Speaking to a group of young men and then a group of young girls standing in a long queue outside a club on Clifton Triangle it was the money they spent to have a good time. One young man spent half his weekly wage on each Saturday night out, the same for another young woman. Neither was ‘foolish’ or ‘feckless’ or a front-page image for a black top tabloid paper. Nights out in Bristol are what they live for. Drinking was part of that, before they went out and while they were out.

Bristol has seen a 42% increase in hospital admissions attributable to alcohol in the last 6 years so something is clearly wrong, but it’s not just the city centre’s fault.

We all have a problem with alcohol and this week on BBC Radio Bristol I’m going to try to make sense of why.

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