No News Today!

Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.

And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.

The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.

Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT!  THAT also felt like a never-ending story! 

With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.

I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it. 

The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.

You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.

One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).

Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.

The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.

On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.

But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.

But why am I talking about this today?

Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.

It was before television, so this was radio news. 

BBC microphoneIt was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...

“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” 

That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.

Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC,  when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.

In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories. 

Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!

I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it.  Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.

Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.

Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My Love is Deeper

A week ago the world said 'farewell' to a great character.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, passed away at the grand old age of 99! Had he lived another eight or so weeks he would have turned 100. What a life! What a lifetime of experiences! 

My Dad always reminded us that he was six days older than the Prince ... and he was!

My Dad, Arthur Maitland Le Feuvre, was born on June 4th 1921 and Prince Philip on June 10th. But that was all they had in common really.

My own Dad died many years ago ... on May 17th 1985 ... taken far too soon at the age of 63. But he remains alive for me, in my heart, in my memory. No matter that I haven't seen him physically for so many years, his love for me and my love for him remains the same.

Today will be a tough day - perhaps the toughest yet - for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. After more than 73 years of marriage and more than that of love, she will lay her beloved husband to rest.  Because of the coronavirus restrictions which prevent crowds from gathering, it sounds like it will be a small and family affair in St George's Chapel in the family home - Windsor Castle. And perhaps that's how it should be.

I've been to Windsor many times, as I lived nearby for more than a decade, and it is a beautiful place. And I know that the 'locals' especially will want to be there to support her today, and I'm sure some will make that journey to the Castle to do so safely.

Now, whether you're a Royalist or not, you have to feel sympathy and sadness for the Queen and for the wider family. Even though the Prince lived such a long and active life, which I'm sure is to be celebrated, the loss of him will be deeply felt.

And so I, for one, am praying today for peace to fill the Queen's heart and soul. For her deep Christian faith to sustain her at this difficult time, and for her to know that she is supported and upheld not just by her family and friends, and the people in her own town, but by many around the world. Those who know her and knew the Prince and the many millions who do not and did not.

Yes, the Duke was a Prince and his family are Royal but ultimately they are all human beings and this time of bereavement will affect them as grief affects us all. That dreadful empty feeling of loss and grief which seems to suck the life out of you at times. So today I also pray for the Duke's children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and all those knew him and loved him, not as a leader or an iconic royal figure, but as a Dad, grandad, great grandfather, friend, boss. 

'Grief' is something which affects us all differently. It can prevent us moving forward, to be always looking back.  For some, it appears to have little effect, but I would argue even those who put on a brave face will know the suffering of bereavement, even if they don't wish to show it to the world. It is the human condition.

But over the years, since I lost my own darling Dad, I've learned that even though those we love may no longer be alongside us, and once the gut-wrenching sorrow has begun to dissipate just a little, even if it never entirely leaves us, there comes a point when we can smile again at the memory of those whom we have loved. They continue to enhance our lives, continue to make us the people we are and are yet to be, and they and their memory continue to fill our hearts with love and joy.

So today I just leave you with a thought that seems to express this a bit better than I can...

Grief

 


A London memory

I worked in London for many years and so commuting into the City and across the metropolis was a great part of my life for a good deal of time.

At one point and for many years I often passed through one particular London Underground (Tube) Station - Baker Street - almost daily, and I got to know it very well.

It's a fascinating place. It's where lots of different underground lines converge, and it's a labyrinth of platforms and interlinking corridors. 

And it's historic - Baker Street is one of the original stations of the Metropolitan Railway,  the world's first underground railway, which opened on 10 January 1863.  When I was working in London, the Bakerloo Line, which gets it's name because it links Baker Street and Waterloo among other stations, celebrated it's centenary. The line opened in various stages between 1906 and 1915.

Baker Street is also famous because of its links with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock holmes baker streetHis creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes living at a fictional address - 221B Baker Street - which back at the time when the novels were being written, would have been a high class residential area. Today the Sherlock Holmes Museum is at the address and there's a statute of Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street station which also draws masses of visitors to the tube stop.

The platforms are decorated with tiles bearing an iconic silhouette of Holmes - pipe and all ! I love the way the powers that be have embraced the mystery of a fictional character, and woven it into a place of historic value.

But I'm thinking about this particularly today because, LONG  before I knew about the Tube station at Baker Street, I was aware of the name, thanks to a fantastic song which bears the same title.

Not that it has anything to do with the story of the underground station, but today is the birthday of Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish singer/songwriter and the creator of  'Baker Street'. Born this day - 16 April - in 1947

I've loved this song since it first made the charts in 1978, and I have to say, often when I passed through the actual station I found it ringing around in my head!

So - in celebration - here it is ... 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day by Day

Just a simple thought today.

If you've having a tough week ... this might help ... 

One Day at a Time!

Just One Day at a Time!

Take life day by day


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


A Musical Experience

If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.

It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.

But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'

And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!

George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.

Hallelujah chorus sheet musicResearch tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!

Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.

Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!

Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.  The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!

Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of  74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said  “I should like to die on Good Friday.” 

That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday -  April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” 

But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.

I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?

I think Handel would have loved it.

Enjoy!

 




The Road Less Travelled

Have you ever wondered what might have happened if you had made different decisions in life?

Taken that 'other' first job rather than the one you actually began your working life with? Could that have led to an entirely different career?

Taken a risk and moved to another town or even country when you had the opportunity, even though it seemed like a ridiculous notion at the time? Might that have meant more adventure?

Carried on a relationship which you gave up with little fight because you had convinced yourself, at the time, that the person concerned wasn't 'for you', or that it wouldn't work? 

I have to say it has crossed my mind once in a while that life could have been very different for me if I had done 'that' rather than 'this', made alternative decisions.

What might have happened if, when I reached those inevitable crosses in the road, I had taken the left rather than the right road? Or the right rather than the left? Not that I entirely regret the decisions I've made, but it is curious, isn't it, to wonder what 'might have been'?

'The Road Less Travelled' is a saying which has entered our language which sums this up. What might have been had we made different choices?

The phrase comes from a great poem by Robert Frost  - a four time Pulitzer Prize winner - which is actually entitled "The Road Not Taken",

Whenever I read these lines, it certainly gets my mind whirling.

The road less travelled

 


A Hope and a Future

Over the years I've experienced many changes in my life. 

Some good, some not so great.

But there's a verse from the Bible which has walked with me and which never fails to give me strength and fill me with optimism.

Whatever valley I walk through, whatever uncertainty I'm feeling inside and whatever hurdles I face,  this verse from scripture not only comforts but challenges me.

God knows what He's doing, even if I have not a clue. There is hope, even if I can't feel or see it right now.

So today I share this verse, and hope if YOU need a word of encouragement or are going through difficult times, this will help you too, and give you the hope you need to get through today!

Have a great day everyone!

ForIknow the plans Jeremiah


I'll Fight

I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.

My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.

William and catherine book coverWeirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.

The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.

He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.

In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services.  Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.

The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.

But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'. 

WIlliam's last speech = albert hall ihq imageAnd even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.

On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address. 

It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.

And it still inspires today 

While women weep,
as they do now, I’ll fight.

While little children go hungry,
as they do now, I’ll fight.
While men go to prison, in and
out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight.
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl
upon the streets,
While there remains one dark
soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!

Quite a few years ago, I was employed as the Head of Media for The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we produced a video for a big event (a 'congress') which brought together Salvation Army members and friends from across the UK and the British Isles. 

It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.

But, big question  - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?

Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day. 

And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults. 

But it still works ... and it still challenges ... 

 

*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre