Sunday, June 24, 2007


It's been the end of term in Oxford; went to the Sheldonian on Thursday to hear Jimmy Carter speak (best line of the night: he said he had once spoken to John Paul II about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The late Pope said there were only two possible solutions: the realistic and the miraculous. The realistic was divine intervention from above; the miraculous would be the Israelis and Palestinians coming to an agreement themselves).

Friday it was Midsummer dinner and yesterday I went to St Hilda's for a garden party to mark Lady English's retirement. It was strange to be see all these women of a certain age, veteran fighters for women's education and rights, with the grey helmets of hair and sensible suits; some with hats and determinedly cheerful faces... and to realise that St Hilda's won't be the same again from 2008. I had accepted that the college has to go mixed, but there was a sadness there in that a vital institution in the fight to get women treated seriously in the university is leaving and when the next principal retires the atmosphere in the farewell party will be very different.

(Before I sound too po-faced on the subject I am well aware that in my time there the college inhabitants were known - still are - as Hildabeasts - and the college itself referred to as the Virgin Megastore. What would Miss Beale and Miss Buss have said).

I'm sitting here in Oxford on Sunday morning trying to rewrite part of my novel and uneasily aware that I've got to work out what I am doing next. I need to find a writing fellowship in order to put off real life further.
PS R4 is obsessed with Glastonbury - I love it when R4 tries to get down with da kids; poor Carolyn Quinn etc. To combat this, I just have to add Adrian Monck's story from Glasto past and to say that I can't wait for Giles Wembley Hogg's take on Tuesday...

Friday, June 15, 2007

The highs and lows....

I've just been to my last ever high table at Nuffield. Oh lord, how will I ever get used to real life again where you don't get served four course meals three times a week with wines selected by the butler.....and get to talk to Gus O'Donnell, Prof Kitzinger and Roger Bannister...

Nuffield is actually one of the least stuffy colleges in Oxford but thanks to Lord N's money serves some of the best food (All Souls is the best apparently but I never managed to wangle an invitation; in fact if you want an invite you'll never get it in one of those unspoken rules). Tonight's offering at Nuffield was red mullet in gazpacho sauce with salad; guinea fowl on a wild mushroom risotto; roast pear and honey icecream. I skipped dessert (claret, port and Muscat) to go to Jeremy Tobacman's bachelor party and then to the Nuffield College cocktail party (avoided the cocktails as I want to be able to go running tomorrow. Well be able to function tomorrow).

But now apart from Midsummer Dinner next week, my life at high table is over. So farewell gown (worn for first three courses but always removed for dessert), farewell passing the port (always to the left), farewell pointing out the Nuffield coat of arms to guests (in particular the ox, the beavers and the pears) and farewell the SCR coffee machine (which every evening without fail stumps the finest social science brains around).

At high tables I've tried to understand econometrics and the sociology of work productivity around Europe; debated whether Wolfowitz was set up and why Edwards is the one to watch in the 2008 election; asked whether house prices being 10 times income could be a good thing and argued over whether governments can make their citizens happier; sorted out the New Philanthropy and learned why Royale fell from grace so quickly.

Oh and I told stories about the talking horse and Slapper Napa .....Yes they really got value for money with this year's Nuffield Fellow didn't they?

Now back to low table for the summer....Sigh.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Managing the Media Banda Aceh style....

My last Alertnet blog on tsunami subjects - how villages in Aceh are using the media to get aid agencies to do what they want.....
Tony Blair take note...
Beauty and the Beasts

At the time of blogging almost every journalistic friend on Facebook has altered their status to read something along the lines of "X is a feral beast/has gone feral/is more feral than...." I love it.

Poor old Blair. He tries to make a serious speech about the media's effect on public life and this is the kind of effect he has on the media community. No wonder he complains about us being obsessed with impact over accuracy

On a more serious note I went to the Blair/Reuters speech this morning. Must go to bed because I am exhausted and will blog more tomorrow but what I was struck by was

- Blair's admission that while in 1997 they were thinking in terms of an issue a day for the media, by 2005's election they were thinking in terms of one in the morning, afternoon and another by evening
- The hint that newspapers might find themselves under regulation as distinctions between press and broadcast blur through electronic media.
- The sheer amount of time the media takes up in a politician's life these days. Ah but how did this 24/7 culture come across. Blair seemed to think it just happened and that journalists and politicians were surprised onlookers as rolling news, blogs, the internet happened
- Blair's attack on the Independent as a a "viewspaper" (Simon Kelner must be fact I bet he runs it on the front page tomorrow*)
- But he didn't differentiate between any different bits of the media as being more feral than others (other than right at the end quoting someone who said the media in Britain were the best at their best and the worst at their worst).

The Guardian's round up on what the papers are saying.....

Nick Robinson (BBC) with link to the speech itself

The verdict of those at the Reuters Institute of Journalism...

And what Adrian Monck said.

Richard Sambrook doesn't seem to have blogged on this (he was showing Dan Gillmor round the BBC yesterday...but both he and Peter Horrocks have joined the Facebook group Feral Beasts of the Media...

*he did...and on pages 2,3,4,5 and a whole of an editorial page....

Monday, June 11, 2007

They still haven't found what they're looking for....

Larry Elliott's verdict on aid and the G8 summit....

Oh and congratulations to my funders, the Guardian - it's the 50,000th issue today

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The truth about Baby 81

Latest AlertNet blog is here. It's all about one of the most famous stories of the tsunami....a story that would undoubtedly be called "too good to check" - and one that I felt as a journalist that many would think "there but for the grace....."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How to rebuild after the tsunami
Good post from IRIN here posted on Alertnet - which I feel rather relieved at as it's exactly what I found in Batti - but after criticisms wondered if I had got completely wrong...

The tsunami is the great unspoken on the east coast now....And while it is completely understandable, I think some aid agencies are being able to avoid answering questions about why/how they set up some of the reconstruction projects because the plight of the IDPs is so much more pressing.

Certainly it seems odd that beautiful houses can be built, yet there was no co-operation with other agencies to supply these houses with water or electricity...
Kiss and make up

In amidst spending the weekend looking over my next AlertNet blog, I wrote a quick piece for the Telegraph here - (scroll right down for my piece). A subject dear to my heart obviously....and the kind of erudite thought everyone expects

Friday, June 01, 2007

Skool's out

It's a sunny Friday, the first of June, far too nice to be hurting my head with user generated content and thoughts such as: given the interdependence of the news media and the government it is problematic to argue that one has consistent power over the other in that one can make the other do something it would not otherwise do.

Oh forget it. Look at this instead.

I love St Custard's so much. And I don't think I can better any thought than as molesworth 2 sa reality is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder