Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The illogical perks of the press pass

I have always marvelled at the perks the press enjoy. With a quick flash of their pass, press members are licensed to bypass stationary queues, access VIP areas and chow down on complimentary lunches, whilst those without that powerful plastic pass are left clenching their fists at the injustice.

Over the summer, I temporarily joined the fortunate few granted a press pass. Sadly, it was not during Glastonbury, but when working for Horse & Hound magazine at the European Dressage and Show Jumping Championships.

Granted, I enjoyed parking next to the main arena rather than a bus-ride away, supped up the free tea, coffee and biscuits, and revelled in not having to queue for a portaloo, but, I felt these privileges were at least justified as I was working all day – providing essential online coverage of the event for Horse & Hound website users.

However, when I was sent off to a Holland & Barrett press event in London Zoo as magazine representative for Green Futures in November, justifying the press perks was slightly harder.

I had swotted up on circulation figures and details of the target audience, setting off with hopes of returning to the office with a good story and a load of new subscriptions. And I did start enthusiastically – throwing myself into the initial inter-journalist, card-swapping foray and scribbling notes throughout the CEO’s staunch cataloguing of Holland & Barrett’s green credentials. However, when I realised that Green Futures was unlikely to feature a green-themed advert for any shop: my interest started to wane and I had to feign attention.

 My mind rejoined the action only briefly for an interesting story about a deceptive butterfly that lurks in ant-nests gorging on its hosts.

Following this, I made the most of the scrummy lunch (wine and pudding included) and the guided meander around the butterfly house, before being given a given a press bag and left to my own devices, having done nothing at all except lap up the freebies! I was able to spend a happy half-hour roaming around the zoo: gazing at the pelicans, surveying the gorillas and sympathising with the prowling tigers (appreciating it all the more as I hadn’t paid for entry) before returning to the office with nothing other than a full belly and bag of goodies.

I confess openly that I am almost completely business illiterate, but the whole thing seemed slightly illogical to me: more budget-busting than budget-sense in the midst of a recession. Was all of that expensive entertainment simply for the possibility of a few lines of positive publicity…?

I have to say, when I’m classed as one of the press, I'm certainly not complaining about the power of that plastic pass!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Taxpayer-funded duck house… try self-dedicated temples, divine powers and horses awarded senatorial powers

Until I graduated, my attempts at reading classic novels (other than those stipulated by my course) seemed to dissolve after an enthusiastic first chapter. Despite best intentions, I was always thwarted by trips to the pub, box sets of senseless comedy in the lounge or the descending haze of a hangover.

When I started my internship, the daily trundle into work on the train (when not spent slumped against the train window snoozing) became ideal ‘enforced reading time’. I found myself storming through the first chapter of novels before Vauxhall, and I can now tick off a few classics from the generic list of ‘must-read novels’.

I recently finished ‘I Claudius’, by Robert Graves. I was prompted to read it following an inspiring visit to Rome. Bemused by the plethora of Gods, Goddesses, Julians and Augustus’, guilty twinges at my lack of knowledge (despite a. Ancient Rome module in first year) compelled me to try and improve my sparse knowledge.

Graves’ novel seemed like the most pain-free option – historical fiction, based wholly on the work of classical writers such as Suetonias, Tacitus, Plutarch and Claudius: none of his characters are invented, and none of the events described are completely fictional. My dad lent me his old copy – a 45 pence edition that hasn’t been opened for over 30 years – and I found myself spending a happy fortnight engrossed in the turbulent tyranny of Emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.

I was initially somewhat bewildered by the succession of Germanicus’s, Drusus’s and Aggripina’s, but soon the names became irrelevant. The novel quickly becomes a glut of inventive murders, backstabbing bribes and sexual intrigues – which makes for a bloody good story! The entangled self-seeking motives of the senate, pride of the generals, divinity of the Emperors and schemes of their wives, which are narrated matter-of-factly by Claudius, enthralled me. To be honest, reading about the political intrigues 2000 years ago makes the expenses scandal pale into insignificance.

It wasn’t long before I scrutinised the extended version of Gladiator, and I am now stuck into Graves’ sequel: ‘Claudius the God’. I even received a box set of the TV series in my stocking this year.

In fact, on reflection, I am amazed that my lecturer at university managed to make such a captivating period so boring that I don’t remember a word of what he talked about!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The future is... green!

In the final few weeks of uni, when wallowing in deadline doom and finals stress, my somewhat eccentric lecturer decided to buoy up his seminar group up by stating that we were graduating in the worst economic climate since the 1920s… Sadly, this seems to have rung fairly true, and the last time I met up with the ladies from Cardiff, we were all working full-time for free.

Although undoubtedly I am missing the pyjama-clad lifestyle of studying history (and the termly injection of funds from the student loan company that boosts the bank balance) and had anticipated finding a reasonably paid job after three years studying, I would not take back the past three months working as a freebie intern.

I was somewhat daunted at the thought of the daily slog up to London, bleary eyed and cold on the half seven train every morning, without the promise of a paycheck at the end of it all. Yet, cliché as it sounds, the intern experience has offered me a whole new perspective - not only on my career, but also my way of life!

I applied for the Green Futures magazine internship (which is the publication of NGO Forum for the Future) because I was keen on magazine journalism, try to recycle and eat organic food when I can. However, after three months surrounded by passionate greenies envisioning the creation of a healthy, happy and balanced planet, I have been fully converted to this future ideal.

By no means am I an ideal greenie - I enjoy long hot showers and have taken short-haul flights this year – but the energy of the Forum for the Future team has certainly rubbed off on me. Not so that I feel twinges of guilt if I find myself cranking up the radiators in the evening, but that I want to use my energy to work for a sustainable future.

Hydro-powered, automated pods zooming around cities, super-efficient, self-monitoring fridges, agri-cities that cultivate food on rooftops... There's no end of green ideas bubbling away...

During my three months, the friendly idealists at Forum became a welcome counter to the brusque, grumpy-faced businessmen on the Waterloo & City line. Now I always want to be surrounded by such visionaries - working step-by-step for a cause other than an end-of-year bonus.

Following my being ‘Forumised’, a lot of my friends think I am on the road to becoming a lentil-eating, hemp-wearing, hippy. Have a look at forumforthefuture and be your own judge…