Friday, 28 July 2017

Ideas to blast your writer's block away

Being a blogger is fun because you get to write about an issue or topic of your choosing when you want. Ideas abound everywhere and all it takes is imagination and natural curiosity to spot the potential for a blog post in, both, normal everyday situations and the big situations in life.The best bit about blogging is, for me anyway, that I have complete control over the point of view that I take.

As an example, when I blogged about 'Love Island' a few days ago  the angle I took was about the parent and child interaction which interested me as opposed to the hundreds of articles written about the body beautiful contestants. Granted the latter was probably more newsworthy because the millions of viewers who watched 'Love Island' can't have been sitting down just for views of trees swaying in the wind. 

But bloggers are able to bring their own experience and interest to bear which adds to the diversity of opinions in circulation.

It's all great going till you hit the wall of writer's block. Don't believe any blogger who tells you otherwise. It comes to all of us like a big black cloud that will not budge. Do you wait till it passes or do you fight back? If you choose to fight back how do you do this?

My well thumbed personal copy
I have discovered a whole list of great ideas to bust writer's block in 'The Million Dollar Blog' book by Natasha Courtenay-Smith. Chapter 7 in the book titled 'Content Creation' is all about the constant need to generate ideas that can spark off blog posts and the freeing up of one's ability to think up ideas. Recognise the following scenario which Natasha describes in the chapter?

"It's a new day. You're sitting at your computer, all fired up. You begin to type today's blog post-and you freeze. The screen remains depressingly blank as you feel your anxiety levels rising-you've got to write something, but what?"

Natasha, the author, lists what she refers to as "tricks" to unblock creative thought. These are:

1. Research your readers. Diving into your readers' worlds is important in coming up with blog posts that will help you connect with them. Using Google's keyword planner and Google's Trend tool to search for specific words and phrases will give you a valuable insight into what your readers are looking for.

2. Using surveys on social media to directly reach out to your followers to ask them what they would like to read or suggesting topics and asking them for their views on whether these would interest them as readers.

3. Look at what your competitors are blogging about. What have they written that catches your eye and can you rewrite this using your own voice and point of view? Caveat - don't plagiarise and offer something different in tone and substance.

4. Write about what you think about. We all have a myriad of ideas that flash through our brains every day. The trick is to capture these in words via a blog post.

5. Write about what other people ask you. Are you an agony aunt in your personal life to family and friends? Could you write about the problems that you are asked to help out with?

6. Hijack the news by looking at news websites, magazines, newspapers for ideas that you could give an opinion on.

7. While most ideas have been written about and rehashed a million times it does not mean that a fresh view cannot be offered.

The list above is a paraphrasing of what is set out in the book. It's a book worth reading in full, by the way.

The strategy I employ is to cut out articles, op-eds and even pictures from newspapers that I can refer to for ideas.

My source of idea
It would be great to hear from other bloggers about tactics they use to blast writer's block.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The parents of the Love Island contestants were, well,'normal'

The producers of Love Island staged a coup of sorts when they invited the parents of the remaining contestants onto the show because it was a game changer. The show went from being a voyeuristic visual of flesh, cleavage and sex to one injected with a sense of warmth and charm. 

Those objects of lust, entertainment and trivia, otherwise known as the contestants, were cast in a different light all of a sudden and it was fascinating watching them interact with their parents.

If I had stopped to think about what sort of parent would condone their child going on a programme like 'Love Island', which I hadn't, I probably would have been quite judgemental in the way that Piers Morgan was on 'Good Morning Britain'.  I am one of those mothers who would balk at the thought of my daughter ever even vaguely thinking about applying to go on 'Love Island'.

The thought of her hanging out on a TV set dressed in bikini after bikini would cause me no end of worry because she would be nothing more than a binary object of either lust or ridicule to viewers. There doesn't seem to be a half-way house with the women contestants. 

Also, I do rate academic qualifications very highly, perhaps too much so, and this is in no small part due to my cultural upbringing. 

However, I did feel challenged by the way in which the parents were able to tease out their children's strengths and accomplishments and do it in a way that was akin to textbook parenting i.e be supportive unconditionally. I can't say that I could have done the same.

Granted there was some soft telling off about sex in front of the cameras but, overall, it was pretty impressive parenting.

This episode of 'Love Island' was fascinating because, up till then, I had hardly watched the series and had, from the trailers shown, assumed it to be numero uno trivial nonsense that artificially talked up the benefits of being shallow. Placing all this in a paradise like setting was something that I disagreed with for the false sense of 'success' that it sold to young people.

While I still think that some of this is true, I did find much that was entertaining and heart warming.

Ironically I had only tuned in to watch it while waiting for a political programme to come on. My daughter, whom I frequently blog about, would describe this as a typical situation. Instead, I was engrossed waiting for the next set of parents to come on to find out what it was that they were proud of. Kudos to them and I am not the only one who found it all quite touching.

I can't say that I am a 'Love Island' convert but I won't be knocking it as much as I have and I won't accuse my daughter of wasting her time if she chooses to watch it again next year.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Every Lib Dem member ought to fight the ageism against Vince Cable

Vince Cable is 74. To put that into context, the retirement age for people who are now in their fifties is 67. Given the low rates of wage growth many will probably have to work beyond that. Pensioners are seen as a prize political grab when it comes to votes. Donald Trump (I can't stand him just for the record), Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are closer to Vince in age.

Politics, historically, was the domain of older men. Lord Palmerston was 70 years old when he was appointed in 1855. William Gladstone was 82 years old when appointed in 1892. It is only in recent decades that younger people have taken up prime political positions with Justin Trudeau, 45, and Emanuel Macaron, 39, being cases in point but the political age pendulum has hardly swung firmly in their favour. Jeremy Corbyn, who is riding high in the polls, is 68 and the clamour for him to be Prime Minister is not being mitigated in any shape or form by his age.

Yet the age detractors are never far away. Vince is often ridiculed on social media for being, well, 'old'. See below as an example.

While all prejudices are largely irrational there is something particularly so about ageism. There is the philosophical argument that we can't be against something that will befall us all at some stage. There is the economic argument that people need to be working well past the age that our grandparents retired at, 55, to plug holes in the pension system. I am no economist but, surely, having more people pay tax no matter their age must make for some economic sense. 

Age UK provided written evidence to the Public Service and Demographic Change Committee for a report in 2013 on ageing. In response to the question, 'Does our culture about age and its onset need to change, and if so, how?' Age UK had this to say: "Age discrimination is a major barrier and remains too prevalent. Older age is too often mocked and there is still too much explicit age discrimination in both the public and the private sectors. We are clear that the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty are hard won legislation and essential cornerstones for future progress."
Given all this it is fair to say that ageism is a particularly illogical 'ism' in the field of prejudices. What is the threshold for ageism to kick in? When grey hairs appear? When people have grandchildren? What about people who grey prematurely? 'Old age' has become a contested term and is a subjective concept.

Judge Vince Cable on his leadership and political stance but not on his age. Ageism is a sick malaise in society and we, as party members, ought to defend Vince against such nonsense.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I need to get fit and have found an exercise video to kickstart my day

This is a great set of exercises to start the day with if you haven't done any in a while like me. Give it a go.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Vince Cable was in stonking form at his first Lib Dem event as leader

Sir Vince Cable and Jo Swinson at the 'welcome the leader' event in Central London 

Sir Vince Cable was in great form at his first 'outing' as leader of the Liberal Democrat party. In Vince style he was calm, assured and completely realistic about the challenges facing the party when he launched his leadership manifesto.

He demonstrated a steadying hand which is just what the party needs post-election when it did not reap the dividends that it had hoped for from the pro-Europe campaign stance that it took during the election. There were no surprise announcements as such but Vince's manifesto distinctly marks a move away from the party's stand of rolling back the state's role through austerity measures when he was part of the coalition government.

Me, Jane Chelliah, with Sir Vince Cable
In contrast, the leadership manifesto states, "We need properly funded and effective public services..".

A bigger role for the state will be situated in the centrist ground. "The middle ground has been vacated", he said, while "zealots" in British politics were positioned on the left as being "anti-business" and on the right as being "anti-Europe". No pressure there then in a political landscape which is very much divided between right and left.

Interestingly, Vince uses the word 'ambitious' quite prominently in his manifesto and in doing so subtly sets out the challenge that the party faces from either side of the political spectrum. With Jeremy Corbyn riding high in the polls and the Prime Minister receiving the strong backing of the 1922 Backbench Committee to shore up her position the middle ground is being squeezed.

However, there is much to play for over Brexit. Vince spoke about how Brexit is heading for a disaster and cited the Euratom issue as evidence of Tory dislocation from the reality. He warned that this "wonderful organisation" is in danger of being completely derailed from the Brexit fall out. As expected, he spoke about the folly of pulling out of the single market and praised the EU for successful policy making especially over environmental and security issues.

Speaking alongside Vince was Jo Swinson in her new role as deputy leader of the party. Some issues of importance to her, which she articulated, were to increase the ethnic membership of the party and about making new members feel involved. As a woman of colour it was rather encouraging that the lack of diversity is receiving the recognition that it ought to have done some time ago in the party.

Me, Jane Chelliah, with Jo Swinson
I sometimes do wonder about the party's ability to capture the mood of the moment. Jo was asked a question about the 2018 local elections and, somewhere in her answer, she referred to empowering local communities and people to help themselves. In the context of what is happening at Grenfell following the fire it is quite obvious that local councils have a big role to play that cannot be understated in ensuring that their citizens receive a good level of service. Witness the way the residents of the borough of Kensington & Chelsea have criticised the local authority for not doing enough and their call for better services. 

Vince predicts that the party will win a good number of seats in the 2018 local election and that we can be optimistic about increasing the number of MPs taking seats at the next general election. If Brexit carries on being a disaster I reckon he will be proven right.    

Monday, 17 July 2017

George Turner uncovers "financial mismanagement" in Lambeth where he stood against Kate Hoey

If ever there was a tenacious embodiment of the Lib Dem spirit that never gives up it is George Turner who stood against Kate Hoey in Lambeth. He increased the Lib Dem vote share through running an outstanding campaign based on giving Lambeth citizens better representation on Brexit issues against Kate Hoey, an arch Brexiter. Lambeth has not seen the last of George.

He is part of a group of local residents who have undertaken a 'People's Audit' of Lambeth Borough's accounts and the extent of failings and mismanagement that they have uncovered makes one wonder just how it is that colossal amounts of money is being frittered away by councils.

If the austerity cuts weren't enough in failing to give people proper access to public services unnecessary financial overspend and mismanagement at local council level severely further compounds the burden of cuts.

After the Grenfell tragedy, it is now apparent that recipients of poor public services suffer the most and, in extreme cases, stand to lose their lives. Set within a context of a heightened awareness of how local councils break their social contracts with their borough's residents, this report makes for a shocking read.

The report alleges that Lambeth council has overpaid building contractors for work on council estates, found an 'appearance' of price-fixing in building contracts, that there was a lack of oversight on what it spent, high compensatory costs for disrepair, the cost of refurbishing Lambeth town hall was doubled, council assets were sold below market value, inconsistency over salary and redundancy levels and a lack of transparency over contracts to do with Greenwich Leisure Limited.

It is quite clear that another layer of governance, if that is the right word, that lacks transparency, accountability and financial prudency exists at local level. Is it costing us less teachers, less hospital staff, library closures? I am no accountant but I am quite sure that I am not far wrong in guessing what it is that people are losing out on.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

The parallel universe of the Labour Party

The most surreal of experiences occur in the most unlikely of places. I have had that sort of day. Fabian Conferences are always a political highlight for me and, much as I enjoyed the summer conference, I couldn’t help but feel that I was caught up in a parallel universe. To cut to the chase, anyone from another planet or, why go that far, from another political party would have been rather more jubilant at their party’s election performance if Labour’s results had been theirs.

The Conservative party who have the ability to spin without feeling giddy would, if the roles had been reversed, have been swigging Dom Perignon and thumping tables. The Lib Dems would have had members crying into their Guardian newspaper which always seems wedded to their hands by the way. The Labour Party? You should have been at the Fabian Conference to believe it. Even the 1922 Backbench scary as hell committee were more jubilant about the Tory Party’s dismal performance at the election.

By stark contrast the Labour MPs (not all) who graced the stage in the auditorium at the Fabian conference were a few steps away from being lachrymose. The sense of elation felt by voters over the party’s success had clearly not transferred itself over to the party’s MPs. By the end of the conference I was utterly confused and wondered if my usual political instincts had reached its’ sell by date.

Not so. I looked at Twitter on the way out and a new YouGov poll for The Times has put Labour 8 points ahead of the Conservative Party. To add to the confusion Corbyn had been making headlines today for his visit to the Durham Miners’ parade.

This is the reality of the two halves of the Labour Party. One celebrates Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and fully recognises his ability to win voters over. The other treats Corbyn as if he were the elephant OUT of the room. Any hopes of the party coming together with a shared plan to beat the Tory party were not evident at the conference. Yes, there is a shared will to win the next election but a will has to be converted into action and it is clear that some factions of the party are as determined as they were before to not play ball.

The most disappointing bit of the conference for me was Yvette Cooper’s keynote address. While she did speak about Labour’s “strong and stable leadership” there was no overt acknowledgement or even a nod in the direction of Corbyn's rise to success. There was something missing from her speech and it was this, a failure to capture where Labour stands with the electorate. How does a party move forward when it seems to have disdain for its’ own success?

This is a party comprised of one half willing the leader to reach greater heights and the other half stubbornly clinging to a centrist position because, regardless of the evidence, it has artificially constructed a narrative that assumes victory is for the taking if only the party could replicate its’ path to power under Blair.

Come to think of it Blair was the elephant in the room while Corbyn was the elephant out of the room.

I attended the panel session on ‘Future Left: What next for Labour?’ which featured Owen Jones. As usual Owen was spot on with his analysis: “Labour gave people a vision. That is why people voted for them.” He went on to say that what the Labour party offered in 2015 was not good enough but that Corbyn understands the “spirit of the times in the way Thatcher did”.
Ann Pettifor, Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics, who was a speaker on a different panel set some context around voter’s intentions when she said that the electorate was ahead of politicians in setting the political agenda. She cited tuition fees as one example of what worries the electorate. Clearly then Corbyn was right to offer huge concessions on tuition fees.

All said and done I fear that the two halves of the Labour Party will not be converging in the way that it was hoped they would. I can’t think of a reality that would summarise the Blairites stance and can only make up an analogy with, say, the Rotary Club suddenly being besieged by people wanting to join it but turning them all away because they weren’t the ‘right types’; or a local cricket club winning the season and returning the cup because the players who played well weren’t their cup of tea.
I don't think I am wrong in saying that Labour voters will not be forgiving if internal division chips away at the party's electoral success.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A man who posts a photo of his ex girlfriend's vagina in a retaliatory spat is a TWAT

Rob Kardashian is a first class TWAT and a man-child quite obviously for the way he has retaliated against his ex-girlfriend, Blac Chyna, who is also the mother of his child. Rob, brother of Kim Kardashian and Kyle Jenner, posted a photo of Chyna's vagina on Instagram. It has since been reposted on Twitter.

This is revenge porn at the very least and on a scale of misogynistic acts this ranks quite high up.

The photo was obviously sent to him originally as an act of intimacy between him and Chyna. A reading of a very boring string of rants by the man-child quickly reveals a depth of immaturity which makes one think that people ought to sit a test of maturity before becoming a parent. The pair have a child, a daughter, called Dream. So, Rob has spent all day demeaning the mother of his child. To redeem his sense of pompous masculinity he writes that he wants/hopes his daughter will read all this one day to understand how depraved her mother is.

Rob plays a high stakes game of parenthood because it is very likely that Dream will wonder about her father's sanity.

Rob Kardashian, Blac Chyna with their baby called Dream

The whole thing is damn ugly and reeks of a bad case of misogyny. Clearly designed to portray himself as a caring partner he accuses her of being ungrateful because he spent $250,000 on jewellery and $100,000 on cosmetic surgery. How about being grateful Rob that Chyna has given you a daughter?

It's the default line isn't it for an immature misogynist to resort to the consumerism that transpired in his relationship and to use it as a sword to swing against the woman? The implicit message being "I spent x amount on you so you owe me your undying loyalty no matter how I behave".

I don't care myself for celebrity gossip but Rob's story which was trending on Twitter caught my eye for the rampant sexism that is threaded right through his ugly rants. Veiled references are made to Chyna previously (allegedly) being a stripper and his own largesse at accepting her despite it all. Again, the implicit message being "I was good enough to take you in and let you be part of my life despite what you did". He goes on to then beat himself up over how na├»ve he was.

Has it occurred to Rob that, apart from his surname, he looks like your ordinary bloke who works in the mail room? Also, isn't this the same Rob who was vastly massively overweight at one time? No hope there then that his ego went on a diet with him too.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

A proud Mama weekend

If I had a visual to describe the amazing day that I had yesterday, Saturday, it would be of all my Christmas treats for years to come given to me at once while sitting on a Caribbean beach with a steel band playing close by. The incongruity of this image conveys the two images of my daughter's day which I was privileged to be a part of.

It was prize giving day in the morning and my daughter's prom at night. In one day I saw my daughter play two roles: a successful student taking delight in her achievement; and, later, as a confident grown up young lady celebrating the end of school by letting her hair down.

A few days ago I blogged about her leaving school and the sadness that I felt. By contrast, yesterday was a day of celebration. Maelo was awarded the 'John Iberson Memorial Prize' (named after a special teacher at the school who died in 1989) for best A Level Student. It is an award for academic excellence. 

The award ceremony was an especially poignant one for me because soon after Maelo started school she was diagnosed with a condition that is neither Dyslexia or Dyspraxia but is a combination of both. She and I worked really hard to help her overcome difficulties with handwriting, number writing and the ability to comprehend and follow instructions. She was labelled 'difficult' many times. After being diagnosed she received therapy at the age of 5 and there she was yesterday, aged 17, receiving the biggest prize awarded to a sixth former.

Hours later she was dressed up for her Prom and it was a thrilling experience for me to watch her and her friends get ready and be part of the youthful exuberance and excitement that characterised Maelo's spirit.