Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Decluttering - and being bitten by the ebay bug

Ever since I moved out of our old office in Henley about five years ago, I've been carrying round dozens of boxes and crates. Most have contained various work paraphernalia - old project collateral, business papers, bits of kit and the like, but the box collection also became home to various odds and sods that we hadn't got space for at home.

Most of the boxes sat unopened for the 18 months we had the Oxford office, and then they all got shunted into storage when we moved over to Risborough. Some then got destroyed when the storage unit got flooded - I still growl every time I drive past Red Devil in Aylesbury - before what remained - and a whole new lot of additional items - went into a storage centre in High Wycombe.

Finally, last month, I got fed up of paying out to lock up stuff I clearly haven't needed for years, and set about emptying the unit and decluttering.

I've now refound my 80s/90s CD and cassette collection and Laura-Beth and I have been bopping around to everything from Big Country to Lisa Stansfield (and about 250 tapes in between). Some fairly ancient IT kit swiftly ended up in the computer recycling area of the local tip; some stationery, books and a couple of small bits of furniture went straight to a charity shop; a heater was pressed into use at home. I've restocked on office stationery from stuff I'd bought years ago and never opened; old business papers have been squeezed in to our latest, rather compact, office and a load of old collateral simply got sheredded (and recycled!).

Still I was left with two large crates. When I opened them up I found hundreds and hundreds of old football and rugby programmes. Now I've kept every programme from every match I've ever been to - and I've seen a lot of matches over the past thirty odd years. But I thought I'd lost most of them in the flood. It turns out that quite a few had survived - but I just don't have the space to indulge in my magpie tendencies any more.

Rory, Sophie and I had a great time pulling out the rarities - programmes signed by the likes of Man United, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and QPR back when my dad had a friend who was a League referee in the late 70s and early 80s. We also pulled out all of the Wasps programmes with Rory's picture in - he has done quite a few of their community initiatives over the years, and with his bright ginger hair, he stands out a mile. The rest, we bundled into lots and stuck them on eBay.

Now I've never sold anything on eBay before, but the last few weeks have been a revelation. Everything we've put up so far has sold - some for quite decent money, others for pennies - and seeing our stuff attract bids, watchers and questions has become compulsive viewing.

The bulk of what I had to offload has now gone, but some bits and pieces remain - at least for the next five or six days (and they're here for anyone interested). In some ways selling off the programmes is sad - every one is a little bit of my history, and I actually wrote and edited quite a few over the years for Oxford, Wycombe, Swindon and Fulham - but hoarding crates of the things has more than a dash of train-spotteringness about it.

Anyway, it has quickly become a habit to check first thing in the morning to see what's attracting bids - and I often have a quick peek before I sign off in the evening.

Decluttering's definitely cathartic - even if I'm selling off my youth!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Noises off

So it has been - and is still being - half term this week. Half term and school holidays can be the nightmare scenario for small businesses with child juggling thrown into the mix of keeping the business on a steady course.

This week has lived down to expectations with one animal crisis, one sleepless night - and numerous interruptions just when clients are getting to the crucial bit of a phone call.

Jac had taken the girls away to her parents for the weekend and wasn't coming back until Monday evening, so it was my turn to feed the rabbits and open up their run first thing on Monday morning before starting work.

Now it had been down to minus 6 centigrade on Sunday night and the garden looked lovely, white and frosty. Unfortunately it had proven a little too much for one of our rabbits and so the week got off to a pretty horrible start with me finding Billie dead in the bottom of the hutch with her sister Millie jumping around and sniffing and poking away at her.

It wasn't a total surprise - Billie has been losing weight for a couple of months and has had a couple of trips to the vet for different treatments. She just wasn't a very strong rabbit and it seems the freezing night and her own weak state did for her in the end.

The rest of the day set the tone for the week with the sound of Rory and his mates playing cricket (in February!!) just outside the window - alternating with Wii sports played to much mirth and at high volume.

Tuesday was a day away from the office so not a problem, and I just gave up early on Wednesday and took the kids to the Tower of London instead - great fun, but no money earned!

I spent much of yesterday and this morning on various interview calls - interrupted every so often by Sophie with an urgent question or piece of information....well, urgent for her. She seven, bored when I'm working and can't understand that when the office door is shut it means I'm working and not to be disturbed. it's not an ideal situation - and somehow she thinks that half-term means my holiday too.

This morning's had the double complication of the morning after the sleepover before - I think it was about 2.15am when L-B and her friend finally quietened down a bit. at least it meant two of the four kids in the house stayed quietly asleep until noon today!

Anyway, I suspect good working time will be scarce this afternoon - so I'm just going to go with the flow and be Dad first, and the writer and editor way down the list of priorities.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And another thing.....

Busy, busy week - but just time to collate a few random thoughts as no fewer than six men peer down a hole in the pavement outside my house!

I'm stuck here this morning - not least because I can't get my car past two transit vans - and am fascinated by the 'great British workman' in action.

We've had drainage problems since December, and finally, the gang turned up to replace a broken pipe on Monday. They arrived at 8.15, told us they'd arrived, and proceded to sit in their van for an hour before even unpacking their gear. I was trying to work from here, but as they dug into the road, our broadband dropped out, the building alarm went off and then all the power died. I was due in Southampton in the afternoon, so I just headed off a couple of hours early. When I got back at about 10pm, there was a hole in the road with all the lights, safety fencing and other paraphanelia one would expect. Yesterday just two workers turned up. Nothing happened with the hole in the road. They sat in their van for most of the morning - apart from breaking off to wash one 'worker's' car which was parked in the road opposite. I was out for the afternoon, but when I got back the hole seemed peaceful; undisturbed by a day of inaction.

They were back at 7am this morning. I looked out bleary-eyed to see the van parked up over the road and two workers happily reading the paper. To be fair, they got cracking just before 8.30am and there's all sorts of banging, crashing and the sounds of machinery going on out there now. I'd love to know how they charge for their time - so far they've been in attendance for about 18 hours, and I'd say they've actually physically worked on the job for a third of that. Madness.

Anyway, part of the visit to Southampton was the chance to discuss BBC local radio music policy. Now I'm a fan of local radio - when it's good it's excellent at uniting local communities; providing a level of local interest journalism that the nationals can't rival and a style of programming that's at a completely different pace from the relentlessness of national broadcasting. But while stations such as BBC Radio 2 have reinvented their music policy and new options such as 6 Music have emerged, BBC local radio has kept its music choices safe, warm and fuzzy, paddling in the shallows of the safe 70s to the soft end of 90s rock. It's bland, boring and too often cheesey. So, it was good to hear from a BBC local radio station's editor how the music is chosen. In short, a playlist of around 600 tunes is tested on focus groups fitting the demographic ther stations are aiming at. What happens in practice is that this list is fed to a bunch of 50-something critical friends of the BBC. Those melodies that appeal form part of a package sent to all stations. But presenters don't then select individual tunes, they select time slots and genre (upbeat, ballad, or whatever) and the computer does the rest. The result? Bland, personality-free music choices - and frankly, lazy radio. At a time when local radio is losing listeners, and those it's keeping are getting older and older, this doesn't bode well. Fewer and fewer of the next generation will be bitten by the local radio bug.

But what will we be listening to in the future? possibly not DAB. GCap's decision to close the Jazz and Planet Rock and move out of DAB further weakens the platform. And though the BBC has announced it has no plans to ditch DAB, there has to be a danger that it becomes the Betamax of the radio industry. OneWord, Storm and a number of other DAB pioneers have recently disappeared and commercial FM stations have been slow to take up DAB multiplex slots. GCap clearly see FM and the internet as the ways forward......which is a bit of a pain if, like me, you have four DAB radios in the house!

Anyway, performance management, pandemic flu, hange management and Khrushchev are all a-calling, so I'd better crack on.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nothing new - but plenty to renew

I'm feeling a bit flat today - the natural come down after completing the fifth of my six essays for this year's modules on my MA. There's no chance to cruise though, as essay six - and it's a biggie - needs to be submitted in just 14 days, while there's also a research proposal to write and a dissertation to get moving.

But while the course is taking me into new areas of thought and really stretching both my knowledge and capability to learn, I'm not quite getting that same buzz from work - well, this last couple of weeks at least.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the projects I have and will put heart and sould into them, but my current pattern of work is a bit formulaic, and with a certain sense of deja vue.

Like others of my experience, I've come to the conclusion that there's nothing new in IC. Despite what the gurus and consultants might say, and no matter how it's dressed up, it's about organisational leaders building relationships of trust with their teams that enable everyone to do their jobs better. We don't all need to be best mates or even to share the same beliefs, but we all need the right information to do our jobs effectively brought to us in a timely and relevant way; and the right channels to be heard. Frankly, that hasn't changed since January 1989 when I moved from straight-forward journalism into my first in-house role at Nationwide.

We may be talking about engagement and involvement rather more than reporting these days, and there may be slightly more emphasis on two-way communication, but the essentials of the job remain the same. The so-called revolutions that have exploded the box around social media and broken the barriers between internal and external communication are important: but 15 years ago I was working on issue-based communication. True, our tool kit has changed, but the underlying skills and experience required are far less changed.

Where those of us with a few grey hairs have to adapt and indeed renew is in our cultural referencing. This strikes home to me every time we kick off a debate at university. The background to my life was the fall of Saigon; breaching the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent intake of undergrads were born after the fall of the Wall and have never known a world precariously tottering on a balance of power. While the icons of my youth are the heroes of punk, new wave....and yes, even new romanticism, my colleagues on my postgrad course come from an age when R&B is dominant; where schoolwork is conducted on the net and where meeting your mates happens through MSN.

It's not quite 'jumpers for goalposts' stuff, but it's totally unfair and wrong-headed of us as communicators to assume our audiences share our values and references, or that we should impose what matters to us onto them. We can't always hark back to the good old days - some of them were pretty shitty - and we can never assume we've got nothing to learn.

I'm doing the same-old same-old in terms of the process of communication; but my tools are a little different, and my outlook has to change a little too.