Isolation day 87: retail, furlough, brain fog, and podcasts

England is taking its first tentative steps forward, nearly three months on from an unprecedented, national lockdown. Tomorrow will see the opening of “non-essential” shops, as the great British people prepare to flood the high streets during a pandemic which is yet to disappear.

As I sit here writing this, I do wonder what will be going through those peoples’ minds as they make trips into local towns and cities across the country, acting as if the pandemic has magically gone away. It’s safe to say I will not be in a rush to visit shops any time soon.

Many major high street retailers will be adopting the “quarantine items” approach and storing things for 72 hours to kill off the virus. Many shops will not be allowing customers to try items on, and instead encouraging them to take them back to their own homes and bring back if need be. This all seems so comical to me. If the queues for McDonald’s reopening are anything to go by I think the turn out for retail will be just as crazy…

Meanwhile, my furlough has been extended for the time being, I have no definitive date for going back to work but expect it may be between July-August. It feels so strange to realise I have not been to work since the end of March. The world feels so different to the last time I got on that commuter train and made my last latte. I’m pretty sure I won’t even know how to operate the coffee machine when I return… (sorry to my boss if you happen to see this!)

These past few weeks have been pretty rough. I almost feel as if I’ve had this cloud of fog over my brain. Any time I have go to do something, I have found a million excuses why I shouldn’t or just put it off for as long as possible. I feel like my attention span is now worse than ever and I find it hard to concentrate on anything that makes me think. I still feel like there’s a thousand things I could be doing that I’m not. I actually plucked up the courage to send pitches in for national news outlets but have heard nothing back which is disheartening. However, I know that I can’t give up and I need to keep trying. It’s annoying though because the piece was quite “time-sensitive” and I can’t re pitch it as it just wouldn’t be relevant now. I find that half the battle is getting the article idea in the first place.

Sitting in the park

I’ve been lax with exercise too. At the beginning of lockdown I was taking the daily exercise allowance quite seriously and would go for walks most days, however, since it has gotten busier outside with the loosening of the lockdown, I now feel more worried about going outside. I do generally feel like most people are acting like the pandemic is over and the virus has just disappeared. It worries me because you can never predict how anyone is going to behave, I actually wrote a piece for empoword journalism about this. But I am managing to at least get in one run a week – this week I actually managed two so I guess that’s pretty good going.

Day by day, the political response gets worse. What worries me more than anything is the sheer lack of integrity and accountability that Boris Johnson shows. When he even bothers to turn up for the daily conferences (which now seems to be like a weekly thing) he doesn’t answer the questions, he silences the scientists and offers no valid information for the public. His treatment of the Black Lives Matter movement has been diabolical, it took a prompting from the leader of the opposition at PMQ’s for him to even address it, and even when he did it was shoddy and half hearted. I can never agree with Conservatives politically, but at least some in the past haven’t been so full of hypocrisy. It really worries me.

I’ve recently re-discovered the value of podcasts and how great they are to listen to whilst you are doing other things. I love cooking but sometimes I just get a bit bored chopping and waiting for things, but now I tend to pop something on to keep me entertained. I also listen to them in the bath a lot – which I am still having loads of. They make me happy and content which is what I really need right now.

For some unforeseen miracle, we managed to get our hands on some flour – the first time in about three months. I have since made two batches of Irish soda bread – as we’ve got the flour but still no yeast – and have been enjoying the taste of fresh bread. Although maybe a little too much, because on the second bake I basically ate the whole loaf to myself which resulted in a carb induced coma for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t recommend.

My bread, not perfect but something

I am actually really proud of my blog at the moment and how far it has come since the start of the year. In January when I properly started I could count the amount of followers I had on two hands, and now I am fast approaching one hundred. I know that isn’t much in the grand scheme of things but I think it’s mad that so people want to hear what I have to say. And I am so pleased that I managed to save up enough to get myself a new laptop – my old one was so clunky, heavy and slow and now I have a really fast laptop which feels lovely to type on. Getting it at this time was definitely a good idea.

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling. That was my isolation update. I thought I would be doing more of these but I guess I didn’t realise how “samey” the days would be.

Hope you are all keeping safe and well 🙂

Book Review: Airhead ~ The Imperfect Art of Making News

Image: Deadline

Emily Maitlis is rather topical in the UK at the moment because of her framing of the Dominic Cummings debate on Newsnight. Maitlis opened the current affairs program with,

“…He made those who struggled to keep the rules feel like fools and has allowed many more to assume the can now flout them.

The Prime Minister knows all this but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his back benchers, the dramatic early warning from the polls and a deep national disquiet – Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it…    

(You can see the full opening statement here.) In my opinion, her statement did not break “impartiality” regulations but there we go, some are always bound to think otherwise.

However, funnily enough I was actually reading her book before this started. I’ve always admired Emily Maitlis for her approach to broadcasting and this was largely inspired by her brilliant interview with Prince Andrew during the Epstein scandal last year. As someone who wants to go into journalism, I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Review

Title: Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News

Author: Emily Maitlis, British journalist and presenter of Newsnight

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Maitlis’ Airhead is premised as an autobiography of her experience as one of the UK’s leading British broadcasters. In hosting the current affairs program, Newsnight, she is often at the forefront of breaking news. This book documents a range of interviews she has conducted, from President Donald Trump, to the Dalai Lama. Each chapter is structured as a specific interview, or peppered with a particular experience in her career – such as when the BBC got arrested in Cuba, or when she took her twelve year old son to see the Chippendale’s in a Las Vegas strip show.

Although the interviews were interesting to read, I found they were largely driven by pure narrative, and each chapter had the same structure and format. In a sense, it was quite repetitive and lacked substance. Some chapters were better than others, and I did enjoy reading her experience as the interviewer – one that stands out is the interview with former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, days after the Grenfell tower tragedy. Her writing reveals to the reader that indeed, no interview is ever perfect and a lot of the time, due to constraints they are haphazardly glued together in the moment, for the purpose of fulfilling the “breaking news” agenda.

Before reading this I thought it would focus more on the ins and outs of news making and the philosophies of journalism itself. By this, I mean who does news making aim to please, the morals and ethics of breaking news reporting, and how instant reporting via social media has undergone a revolution in recent years. Also, the impact that breaking news has on history making and our conception of events. These are all things Maitlis has been in the thick of over the years, and I was therefore, surprised they weren’t really discussed. Perhaps I expected too much?

Maitlis integrates some of this ever so slightly, but only in the final chapter,

“A huge amount of thought goes into what we do. Interpreting moments of history whilst they are still unfolding is both deeply rewarding and endlessly challenging. Television news is messy. It gets things wrong. It is imperfect – sometimes laughably so – and sometimes you just nail it.”

Emily Maitlis, Airhead

I felt that she had saved the best until last – this reflection on the art of making news should have framed the entire book, and she could have gone deeper into this and been more selective with the amount of interviews included.

The book is marketed as an “autobiography” but it certainly doesn’t read like one, we don’t receive details of her early life, childhood, or how she got into journalism, just snapshots of favourite moments in her career that when reading, feels more like a diary entry. Don’t get me wrong, the interviews were interesting and funny at times, but I found the book lacked depth she could easily convey, considering her remarkable career.

There’s a lot to be said about news making and the ethics of broadcasting, and Maitlis is one of the best people to discuss it, but it’s a shame she didn’t make this more of a feature, perhaps she is saving it for another title!

All in all, this is an interesting book and a worthwhile read for anyone that is interested in broadcast journalism and wants to read about it from her perspective. But don’t expect too much from the sub title, “the imperfect art of making news” as this isn’t given the attention it deserves.

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Book Review: Why I Write

Title: Why I Write

Author: George Orwell

Published: 1946/2004

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview

Why I Write is an extended essay by George Orwell, that discusses a range of topics. Orwell begins the essay with outlining his motivations for writing. Famously, Orwell wanted “to make political writing into an art”. (Hence Animal Farm and 1984…)

Orwell gives the historical and political background to England, writing during the context of World War Two, with the rise of Fascism across Europe. He discusses the ‘Nation’ and why it fails as a concept in England – mostly, he argues, because England has forever been a country of equal wealth, thus we can never be regarded as a common entity.

Orwell also discusses socialism in the practical and ideological sense. In simple terms, economic socialism believes all commodities and ownership should be regulated by the state, rather than private companies and individuals. In theory, this should reduce the inequality that capitalism naturally produces, when wealth is in the hands of a few. Socialism also promotes equality, freedom, and opportunity for all.

Additionally, Orwell focuses on the influence of the media in shaping political opinion and includes the construction of language in this. The use of language is deliberate and its connection to politics is undeniable – it influences political understanding through the construction of events. Orwell argues, it has a strict purpose, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable” – any of this starting to sound very relevant?…

Orwell ends the essay with a set of writing rules to avoid creating false meaning, which is often fostered by political rhetoric.

Orwell’s writing rules
Source: Rough House Media

Above all, this essay makes the imperative case for socialism, set in the context of World War Two. Although miles apart from today, the sad endurance of his argument reigns true.

Review and analysis

I’ll say it straight away – I loved this essay and wanted to commit every sentence to memory. Orwell has the capacity to say everything with such coherency that I always almost think about giving up on the ambition to be a writer… Will there ever be a greater communicator than Orwell?

It was the relevance of this essay that made me enjoy reading it so much. Although it was written a long time ago, and in an incredibly different context, the message for political change is something that transcends time. Orwell argues for the necessity of socialism, something I also believe in, but he does so in such an eloquent and damning way, that I think even the most staunch Conservative could get behind him… (possibly!)

Orwell outlines the reasons for why the general public are against socialism and identifies this as its failing point, if socialism can never be mainstream, then how is it ever going to achieve change? I found myself making stark similarities to today’s political climate in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn, the most ardent champion of socialism in the Labour party for a generation, was unable to win a General election (twice) – but the party’s membership was the largest its ever been.

Labour Party Rally
Source: Labour List

In the last election (2019) Labour had a massive defeat and was criticized for failing to get the masses on its side, as the election was overshadowed by Brexit. This and voters’ opposition to socialism resulted in another Tory majority. Orwell argues that people are opposed to socialism as they perceive of it as taking away from their livelihood (in the form of paying more taxes). People think in terms of individualistic economics, rather than the greater good. And what has changed there?

Orwell also includes a four point program for political change, which has striking similarities to Corbyn’s Labour manifesto’s.

On his agenda is nationalization, limitations of income and a minimum wage, educational reform and the dismantling of private education, and an alliance of equality with India. The last point is an anomaly, given that Orwell is writing before de-colonization, this was the only thing I had a problem with. He isn’t radical enough about India and destabilizing the Empire – as he disagrees that India should have free reign from Britain. But again, context is key. This kind of paternalism enforced on other nations, was still in mainstream thought at this time.

As well as outlining the merits of socialism, Orwell describes the failures of capitalism in its creation of unequal wealth, which is unable to allow the progression of the masses. This results in vast, historic, class inequality in Britain, and negates the idea that Britain is a, ‘nation’ of solidarity, but in fact, a country hugely divided by wealth and opportunity.

Orwell goes on to outline the problems with achieving political change and the inherent obstacles that are in the way – most notably, privilege. This is embodied within the origins of mainstream politicians, journalists and lawyers that run the country. Thus, it appears, we are still raging the same battle, which is depressing, but just goes to show how Orwell’s ideas transcend generations.

Furthermore, the failures of socialism are also discussed, the main one being the lack of mass appeal. Which I have always thought is ironic, as socialism is about the masses. However, Orwell makes a valid point in that unless socialism becomes the political mainstream, change will never happen. Centrist Labour policies are essentially a continuation, and thus, socialism needs to be at the centre of any Labour agenda (RIP Corbynism…)

Finally, I found the link Orwell makes between language and politics fascinating. He argues that, “present political chaos is connected with the decay of language…” in the sense that language can distort truth, and influence the political consensus. He brings to light how the language of nonsense and “fluff” can be used by politicians to distort reality and detract from blame.

Lack of understanding is therefore deliberately constructed to deliver false meaning. (*Coughs* Boris Johnson… *Coughs* Matt Handcock…) Which becomes pertinent when thinking about our mainstream, Conservative politicians we have the pleasure of sharing evenings with in the UK, for our daily COVID-19 briefings….Just listen to one of these, and Orwell’s argument about language and politics will be demonstrated.

Too often politicians use the language of buffoonery which alienates their responsibility of answering the question and facing up their reality of failure. Therefore, the public are left in the dark and truth is obscured.

This is a classic Orwell essay, with a message that reigns true. Which is both worrying on the one hand, but on the other, pays homage to the efficiency, clarity, and enduring message of Orwell’s thought. It transcends historical and political contexts and puts forward the type of change we still need today.

“it is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can be set free.”