I haven’t always been a confident user of that most fast paced platform of social media, Twitter. It’s taken me a little while, but I’m gradually getting into the swing of it. I use it primarily to discuss the books and television programmes that I have enjoyed and to let my readers know about new releases and special offers. What I have discovered to be one of the great perks of this medium, is that really quite frequently, somebody off the telly will respond to one of your tweets.
I’m sure this has happened to many other people. Nevertheless, I reserve the right to feel a little flutter of pleasure when it happens to me. This week, for some reason, I’ve had a particular flurry of celebrity ‘favouriting’; from producers and actors to reality TV contestants. For a stay at home mum of two, who happens to write crime novels, this isn’t bad going.
I’ve tried to analyse the reason for my recent Twitter success. The conclusions I’ve reached are pretty straightforward.
My tweets are generally supportive and positive. I’m usually only sharing my opinions about the stuff I enjoy and am enthusiastic about – and people like to be given praise. This concept goes without saying, surely? But actually, there’s so much negativity on Twitter that it would be easy to forget.
I believe that if you enjoy a book, tv drama or documentary then you should give it a good review somewhere, whether it’s on Amazon, Facebook or Twitter. This means that others will be encouraged to watch or read it too and the author or production team can provide more of the same. It’s a win win for the consumer.
If you do this regularly enough, you might also find yourself taking part in a pleasant little exchange with some person off the telly and believe me, it’s a bit of a thrill.
As a writer, I make it my business to take an interest in how people interact. If I can’t get the relationships correct in my books then my characters just won’t be plausible to the reader. So I wait with anticipation to see how Richard and James respond to the departure of Jeremy Clarkson as the lead presenter of Top Gear.
I’m not a great fan of the show but have watched pretty much every episode as a result of my son’s borderline obsession with the programme.
This has allowed me, over the years, to reach some kind of judgement on the dynamic between the threesome. Clarkson is most definitely Top Dog (perhaps this could be the title of the show he goes on to make with another channel? – Just a suggestion). Just who is next in the pecking order has varied over time. At first, Richard Hammond was very much Jeremy’s side-kick and Captain Slow was the bottom of the heap, cheerfully shouldering the insults of his fellow presenters. But as May has found his feet on the show and gained certain accolades for his work outside of Top Gear, the power balance between the three has gradually shifted, with Hammond now being the but of the majority of his colleague’s jokes.
The three presenters claim to be great mates. Indeed, James said yesterday that they come as a ‘package’. But Hammond has remained remarkably quiet over the whole ‘fracas’ episode. I will be fascinated to observe if they really do stick together over this.
My personal feeling is that friendships based upon bullying never run that deep. People may claim that the insults are purely ‘banter’ and intended only in affection. But this argument hasn’t ever convinced me. I’ve seen these sorts of groups in action many times and I’m always left with the sense that someone has been demeaned and belittled by the process.
Nobody likes having their appearance, habits, intelligence, choice of girlfriend/boyfriend ridiculed. If they insist that they do, it’s a lie. Trust me on this. They just want the group to accept them and feel it is the only way to gain access.
But the dynamic ends up being fragile. Bitterness seethes away just beneath the surface and one insult too many can lead to meltdown.
Often, these unhealthy relationships occur primarily in childhood and early adolescence. As soon as we gain the confidence of adulthood, we drift away from those who think it’s funny to bring us down. Perhaps Jeremy’s sacking from the BBC will mark this transition into maturity for the three men.
But then, maybe not.
We shall have to wait and see.
I couldn’t allow the week to draw to a close without paying tribute to the wonderful finale of The People’s Strictly on Wednesday night. This offshoot of the Strictly Come Dancing franchise followed the fortunes of six real-life heroes and heroines, who spent several weeks receiving the Strictly treatment. This short series, raising money for Comic Relief, has been a tear-jerker from start to finish. The stories of the contestants would melt the hardest heart; from the brave medic who lost his leg in Afghanistan to the mum of two boys with autism and aspergers who set up the largest school for autistic children in Britain.
Most moving of all, was the way in which they threw themselves into the Strictly experience, knowing what a chance of a lifetime they had been given. The resulting performances were at least as good as any you’d see in the celebrity Strictly final. The standard of dancing was incredibly high. In the end, it was Royal Marine Cassidy Little and his professional partner Natalie Lowe who were voted champions. Their paso doble was a tour-de-force, in which Cassidy’s determination to do the dance justice resulted in an electric performance of both power and subtlety.
However, using that careworn reality show cliche, all the contestants were winners, clearly enjoying every single moment of the experience.
I’m sure that this new baby of Strictly’s will not be a one-off. The end result was so successful that I’m sure they’ll produce another series. Just like Masterchef, we could find ourselves with a celebrity and a ‘people’s’ version of the show broadcast at different times during the year. These people’s lives were far more fascinating than that of a typical reality tv star and certainly deserved more screen time than they got on this outing.
First and foremost I am a crime drama fan, as regular readers of my blog will know, yet I threw over the first two episodes of DCI Banks for the People’s Strictly.
That should really say it all…
The catchphrase of last night’s episode of Mission Survive on ITV was: ‘positivity in adversity’. Bear Grylls drilled this point home to the poor band of contestants before they descended hundreds of feet into a subterranean system of caverns, somewhere in the Costa Rican jungle. Many of the tunnels were flooded and for much of the time the celebrities weren’t entirely sure if they were heading towards daylight or a dead end.
Despite the terrifying nature of the task, the group coped incredibly well. Emilia Fox suffered what one of their support crew described as a ‘total meltdown’, when she first descended into the cavern, but to her credit, the actress successfully recovered and continued to complete the task. Dame Kelly Holmes displayed a similar flash of weakness as she psyched herself up to cross a deep, rushing river, the Olympic medallist having a nascent fear of drowning.
Yet during the discussion led by Grylls at the end of the day, to decide who went home, the adventurer’s decision seemed to be based entirely upon how positive the competitors had remained throughout the expedition. Bear Grylls decided that Emilia Fox’s quietness under pressure was a sign of negativity.
His interpretation of her behaviour got me thinking. If I were to categorize my own personality, I would say that on balance, I was an introvert. I am a writer and publisher. In many ways I feel more comfortable with books than people – certainly large groups of people with dominant, competitive personalities. To Bear Grylls, no doubt, this would be deemed a weakness. My quietness and reticence would be interpreted as a lack of team spirit, perhaps.
I couldn’t help but feel that he’d got his assessment of Emilia wrong. In my experience, it is those who project a relentlessly positive image who are in fact glossing over their self-doubt. Often it is the quiet, contemplative one who possesses the nerves of steel. It is one of the reasons why job interviews often throw up the wrong candidates. Short-term positivity can hide a multitude of character flaws.
To be fair to Bear Grylls, in a jungle context he is probably right. The conditions can be so awful that a negative force within the camp could lead to a general malaise which might result in death. But we would do well not to take his survival mantras too far.
When I hear politicians complaining about their rivals running a ‘negative campaign’, they are often referring to the fact that an opponent is pointing out both sides of the argument – weighing up what might go wrong as opposed to blindly hoping a plan will turn out okay. I know which type of person I would rather have running the country.
I don’t think there’s much wrong in being temporarily miserable in the face of adversity. As long as an effort is then made to turn things around. I’m afraid that too much perkiness smacks to me of dishonesty, a trait I would find much less desirable in a colleague or team member.
Perhaps that’s the reason why we eventually evolved our way out of the jungle. Some negative person stopped leaping around being cheerful, sat quietly on a rock and devised ways of living in more hospitable conditions…
On the whole, I’m enjoying the BBC1 series The Big Painting Challenge. There are some excellent tips in these programmes for beginners wanting to attempt the different styles and disciplines of painting. However, viewing this competition has become something of a pantomime in our house in recent weeks. My children find the unnecessary harshness of the two expert judges to be hilarious. Especially as they seem to thoroughly detest the pictures that we all like the best. Obviously, we don’t really understand ‘serious’ art as they do.
But yesterday’s programme, falling as it did on International Women’s Day, was a little jarring. The female contestants, all bar one particularly feisty, more mature lady, have positively wilted under the strict tutelage of the judges. The men, on the other hand, are thriving on the tough feedback, ignoring what they think is unhelpful and soaking up the useful stuff.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of making generalisations about the way in which men and women operate. I happen to believe that our similarities far outweigh our differences. However, having worked as a teacher for over a decade, I can confidently assert that girls thrive under more gentle, constructive guidance. If your criticism is too sharp or not focussed enough then a female student will lose confidence in what they can do well and you can easily find them dropping behind even further.
‘Man up’, I imagine some viewers might say. It’s a competition and if you can’t take the heat, it’s the right thing for you to be eliminated. Well, there is some validity in that. But the contestants are learning from one week to the next and undoubtedly it will be the one who learns the most who comes out victorious. So perhaps the judges should vary their teaching style a little in order to create a level playing field – it’s only some paintings, not open heart surgery!
Perhaps the approach is deliberate, to encourage more male winners of these competitions. Although somehow, I don’t think the tone of the criticism is that conscious. But I do believe it teaches us some interesting lessons about how women operate in the workplace and the classroom. If you want to get the best of us, then make your criticism constructive and be sure to praise those elements we are getting right. After all, if you do get the best out of women, believe it or not, they can be a really tremendous asset.
In the UK we will are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. The cards and gift suggestions have been on display in the shops for several weeks already. I have always believed Mother’s Day to be the only genuine article, viewing other related festivals such as Father’s Day and even Sibling’s Day to be simply constructs of the greetings card industry. So I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day itself is actually a fairly recent construct.
I always assumed that in Britain we celebrated ‘Mothering Sunday’, which is a Christian festival dating back to the 1600s and involves saying prayers in church to honour the Virgin Mary. But according to my research, this festival died out in the 19th Century. The custom of adhering to Mother’s Day was only taken up again when American servicemen re-introduced the concept during World War Two. So, although in the UK we tend to celebrate Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday in Lent, it is to the American tradition that we owe the revival of this annual festival to honour mums.
In the US, the custom was introduced by Anna Jarvis, who ran a campaign to have a date set in the calendar to honour all mums. Her own mother, Ann Jarvis, had been a prominent peace campaigner during the American Civil War. In 1908, Jarvis got her way, and Mother’s Day had begun. Now, more than 46 countries follow suit and the day most commonly falls in May around the world. Within a few years, however, Jarvis herself was complaining that the true meaning of Mother’s Day had been lost and replaced by blatant commercialism. Sadly, there has been no real change in this state of affairs in the decades since.
What has always perplexed me about the custom, is that in order to properly honour the tradition of Mother’s Day we need first to clarify a few things. I am a mum and will expect to get a card from my children to recognise the role I play in their lives (bought by Dad or made at school, of course). Then there is also my mum, for whom I shall purchase an appropriate card and gift. Then, there is my mother-in-law and I imagine that many mums will be required to buy cards and pressies or send flowers on behalf of their spouse (which I don’t have to do, I swiftly add).
Okay. Simple enough, yes? Well, not exactly, because although there is a grandparents day (which falls on the 7th October this year) my children usually want to send a card to my mum on Mother’s Day too. They see her regularly, as my parents live nearby, and she has helped to bring them up (As happens in many families these days, where grandparents are required to provide childcare). So, we will have a Gran card and a Mum card to deliver. Now, it’s becoming more complicated, and we don’t have yet another layer to add to the conundrum – the Great-Gran – or even the Great-Great-Gran – which many families are also blessed to possess.
Then comes the greatest puzzle of them all. How and where to spend the day. If we are truly honouring the mum of young children and babes-in-arms, I can promise you that she will want a day spent entirely on her own – at a spa hotel ideally – or possibly just sleeping undisturbed in her own bed. But mum’s of grown-up children will want to see the whole family – their lovely daughters included. That’s not even getting into the thorny issue of whether it’s the husband or the wife’s mother that you spend the day with. To be frank, the entire concept is a bit of a minefield.
Is there a solution? Much as I’m loathe to add emphasis to another ‘day’ – perhaps Grandparents Day should be made more of, especially in modern times when our parents often provide the burden of childcare. It seems a bit mean not to honour this contribution more publicly. It would then be a lot easier to source a card with the appropriate terminology!
It would also be great if we could cut some of the commercialisation. I don’t require a gift. I love those cards with collages of daffodils and tulips made from tissue paper that get brought back from school. It’s all I need.
Let’s simplify the whole process, so that Mother’s Day doesn’t turn into a headache for those very people it’s meant to honour and respect.