Declaring war

Declaring war

Friday 13th started much like any other day in my house: getting up, getting the kids ready, taking some of them to school while others catch the bus….until my eldest son called and said he’d been refused entry to his school bus because he’d forgotten his bus pass. He’s just started Sixth Form, these things happen, so why, when it was a first offence and he’d had the same bus driver ALL WEEK and he knew damn well he has a valid pass, WHY was he not allowed on?

Cue an incandescent (and very sweary) me driving (probably quite dangerously) halfway round sodding Buckinghamshire to take the errant child to school barely in time to make his first class while I ranted at the poor love at how utterly disgusting the bus company was, when I pay £2000 a year for my sons’ bus passes…£2000 that would surely be better spent on clothes (for me), shoes (for me), nice bits of furniture or a flipping holiday. Turns out, this directive doesn’t come from the bus company at all but Buckinghamshire County Council.  Having made as much noise as my limited following on twitter would allow I did manage to attract the attention of a Bucks CC councillor who has offered to help me and to explain the story further here is the message I have sent him:

Dear Chris,
Thank you for your tweet. I will endeavour to explain the situation I have discovered as a result of my eldest son being refused entry onto his school bus on Friday 13th September after forgetting his bus pass.
My son is 16 years old and has just started the sixth form at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury. Both he and his younger brother (who attends Waddesdon School) divide their time between my house in Milton Keynes and their father’s house in Waddesdon and for the weeks when they are here they catch the bus to school. My elder son gets the 841 from MK to Henry Floyd and my younger son the 973 from Winslow to Waddesdon School and we have had this arrangement in place since the start of the academic year in 2012. I purchase the passes through Amey Client Transport Services on the Buckinghamshire County Council discretionary scheme at a cost of approximately £2000 per annum.
On Friday my elder son forgot to take his bus pass with him because he had changed his jacket at the last minute that morning. This is surely a simple mistake any child could make and he thought he would be okay because when it happened (just once) the preceding year, the bus driver took his name, told him to get an emergency ticket from school for the afternoon journey home and let him on. But not this time, this time my son was refused entry and the bus driver, the same one that had driven him to and from school all week and knew that he possesses a valid bus pass) stated that Buckinghamshire County Council are now operating a strict “no pass, no travel” policy with no exceptions. As I’m sure you can imagine I was livid when my son called me to say he’d not been allowed on this bus and immediately assumed that the bus driver was in a bad mood and decided to take it out on a likely looking teenager. At this time I was already driving my second son to his father’s house and then, as I have three further children, I needed to take them to school and pre-school before I started my working day.  Instead of this both me and my husband were made late for work as he had to sort out the small children while I made the 20 mile round trip to Aylesbury, only getting my son to school in the nick of time for his first lesson. At this time the main source of my incandescent rage was the unnecessary cost to both my time and my pocket because of the extra car journey I had to undertake as a result of what I thought was one driver’s petty unpleasantness. When I eventually got home I emailed Amey Client Transport Services, Bucks County Council and the bus company looking for an explanation (see attached Email1). At this time I also emailed Bucks CC under the Freedom of Information Act requesting clarification of the exact policy pertaining to home to school transport and what occurs in the event of a forgotten bus pass.
 Dear Sir,I am writing to make a complaint in the strongest terms about the fact that my son Jake was refused entry to his school bus this morning, the 841 from Milton Keynes to Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School provided by Heyfordian because he had forgotten his bus pass. 

My son has been catching this bus every other week for the last couple of years and has only ever forgotten his pass on one former occasion. The bus driver this morning was the same one that had driven this service every day this week with the exception of one afternoon and was also the main driver on this service for the last school year. In short, he knows my son and would also have been aware that he possesses a current, valid pass having seen it every day. Would it really have been too much to expect a little discretion from this driver? Not only was my son left stranded in the rain wondering how he was going to cover the 20 miles to school (and sixth formers already have enough on their plates without such worries) but the knock on effects to my whole family have been enormous and completely unnecessary.  

I have five children all of whom have a different place to be each day, none of them currently attend the same school/pre-school or nursery.  Both my husband and I work full time and do not have time to make extraneous, unnecessary journeys and this is why I pay the frankly extortionate fees for home to school transport each year, upwards of £1500 per annum in Jake’s case now he is in the Sixth Form. To be refused entry to the bus on one day because of an honest mistake is extremely galling given the cost of a bus pass in comparison to a Buckinghamshire-wide annual pass provided by a local bus company.  Today’s antics by a jobsworth driver that could so easily have shown a bit of compassion just go to prove to me that there is no value for money in a school bus pass provided by Amey Transport Services.  If my son regularly forgot his pass I would understand this stance but the fact is that he has only ever forgotten it once before and this really was a genuine mistake thanks to a change of suit for school. 

The driver told my son that it is Buckinghamshire County Council’s policy to refuse entry with no pass, whether they know them or not. I have already written to Bucks CC requesting under the Freedom of Information Act the exact policy on school transport and what happens in the event of a forgotten pass. I am also somewhat troubled by the driver’s behaviour when it is clear that he had the power not to ruin someone’s day, does he really care so little about his charges that he will in good conscience make them unable to make the journey to or late for school when he didn’t need to? Would he have shown the same lack of interest to, for example, a seemingly more vulnerable Year 7 girl?  In the event I had to return home and make the 40 mile round trip myself, barely getting Jake to school on time for his first lesson, making me extremely late for work and my husband had to take our other children to their schools etc making him extremely late for work as well. This really is unacceptable and I fear that the tone of my email belies the fury and disgust I feel at this appallingly bad and unnecessary treatment at the hands of a single Heyfordian driver, perhaps only the use of expletives (which I will not resort to) would portray how I am feeling right now. Not only have you ruined Jake’s day but an entire family’s.


Fiona Flaherty (Mrs)


Within half an hour I received a phone call from the bus company who wanted to explain what had happened. They told me that from 9th September 2013 Buckinghamshire County Council were implementing a new policy on school bus travel whereby if a child does not have a valid bus pass with them, they will be refused travel. I was incredulous, to say the least, and asked him if this would still be the case if the child were in Year 7. He confirmed that this policy covers all children regardless of their age. He also told me that if they were caught carrying a child without a pass they would be issued with a “penalty point”. If they accumulate 20 penalty points over a given period (I am not clear on what the period length actually is) then they are no longer allowed to drive that route. From what I was told this policy is now in place to ensure that the buses are not carrying more children than they should be, if only children with a valid ticket are on the service then they are meeting their health and safety requirements by not having an overloaded bus.  I couldn’t quite believe this and wondered if the man from the bus company was spinning me a yarn to get rid of me. I struggled to envisage a scenario where anyone that doesn’t have a valid bus pass would try to catch a bus that they weren’t entitled to travel on, when these are private bus services. I also couldn’t see how the refusal to allow my son on the bus he catches every day would overload a bus when he does have a valid ticket, which the driver knew, it’s just that he had left it at home.
This policy was reiterated when I received an email from Amey Client Transport Services in response to my initial complaint (see attached Email2).
Dear Mrs Flaherty,
Thank you for your email.
Buckinghamshire County Council operate a no pass no travel policy. The driver would not be aware if your son is entitled to travel and was correctly following what we have instructed him to do as we have instructed operators to do across the County. Buckinghamshire County Council state that parents should accompany their child until they are accepted onto the vehicle or you should have in place a contingency should your child not be able to travel.
We carry out pass checks to ensure the vehicle is not overloaded due to health and safety reasons.
Please ensure Jake carries his pass at all times when you wish him to travel to school. If you are not happy with the service provided then you may request a refund and we will refund you for the days remaining that you have paid for.
Kind regards
Rajesh Kungur
Senior Transport Officer | Consulting

I take issue with pretty much all of Rajesh’s points: firstly that the driver would not be aware if my son is entitled to travel. It was the same driver it was the day before…and the day before. It stands to reason that if he had a valid pass on Monday to Thursday in a given week he is likely to still be entitled to travel on the Friday. Buckinghamshire County Council do not issue weekly or daily passes so common sense would indicate that an issued pass will, at the very least, cover a child for half a term.  Rajesh also mentions the pass checks carried out for health and safety reasons to ensure the bus is not overloaded. Having thought the man from the bus company had made this up, I was astonished that this is genuinely the justification for such a policy. Indeed, while my initial outrage was selfish given the cost to me after I already fork out a small fortune for the privilege of conveying my sons on school transport I started to think of the wider implications this blanket policy has.  That Buckinghamshire County Council will leave a child stranded in order to maintain correct health and safety procedures, whether a child is known to the driver or not is incomprehensible and reprehensible. Rajesh further states in his email that “parents should accompany their child until they are accepted onto the vehicle or you should have in place a contingency should your child not be able to travel”.  Having not been aware of this policy I thoroughly checked all correspondence I have received from Amey Transport Services as well as the Terms and Conditions and the School Transport Policy and Guidance as found on the Bucks CC website:, copies of both of which I have attached.

You will see that the wording of these documents differs slightly: one states that you “may” be refused travel without a valid pass, the other that you are “likely” to be refused travel. Neither categorically states that you WILL be refused travel. You will also see no reference to parents having to accompany their children to the bus. I suspect that this was something Rajesh may have made up because I wasn’t clear on how parents are meant to accompany their children to the bus at the end of the day, or indeed why they would bother using a bus service if they had to do that.
Following Rajesh’s unsatisfactory response I made several further FOI requests:
How many children using home to school transport in Buckinghamshire attending the following schools listed on this website forgot their bus passes last academic year and how many of them were allowed to travel in spite of this?How many children using home to school transport in Buckinghamshire attending the following schools listed on this website were found to be travelling on these bus services without a valid pass (i.e. not that they had forgotten their passes but that were travelling with the knowledge that they do not possess one)?

And four further in my (somewhat sarcastic) response to Rajesh:

Dear Rajesh,

Thank you for your email. Please can you advise me UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where it is stated on the Buckinghamshire County Council website that they operate a no pass, no travel policy? I have studied the correspondence I have received from Amey Transport Services which points me to the school transport page at for “full discretionary fees and discretionary guidelines” but am unable to find any such clause under either the “School transport policy and guidance” or the “Terms and conditions” pdfs. Indeed, in the small section that talks about travel itself both documents contain slightly differing information: one states that without a pass you “may” be refused travel, the other that you are “likely to” be refused travel. Neither categorically states that you WILL be refused travel.

 Could you also advise UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where it states that parents must accompany children to the bus stop, as I cannot find a clause relating to this at all. Are you suggesting that parents must also accompany their children to the bus when they are on their way home from school as well? Rather defeats the object of using a bus service don’t you think?

Please can you advise me UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where parents and schools using the discretionary travel service were informed of these changes to the terms and conditions of the service put in place by Buckinghamshire County Council.

Finally I would like to be advised UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT about the no travel policy: who suggested it, who voted for it, how were the public consulted (including where the information was made public)?


Fiona Flaherty

Since this happened I have done a little research and have found that there are 66 schools in the Buckinghamshire area using home to school transport, either free or paid for under the discretionary scheme. This must amount to many thousands of children of all ages (including many at primary, infants and junior schools)  travelling every day across the whole of Bucks. Of those children it stands to reason that several of them will be likely to forget their bus pass on any given day: they’re children, they are forgetful. To leave these children stranded seems to me an unnecessarily harsh punishment, not only upsetting them by making them worry how they will get to school but also to my mind putting their lives in real danger. Not all children have good road sense, many children’s parents will have already left for the day to go to work (despite Rajesh’s assertion that parents must accompany their children I’m sure relatively few do) and how many children could realistically fight off an abduction attempt? This may seem and extreme scenario to use as an example but there have been several abduction attempts reported in this area in recent months and years, are Buckinghamshire County Council so obsessed with not overloading their buses that they will eschew fulfilling their responsibility to keep children safe by leaving them by the side of the road?
With this in mind I would genuinely like to know if Buckinghamshire County Council are allowed to refuse to allow children to travel without a pass for “health and safety reasons” if they have not first consulted with the public on a matter that, to my mind directly affects the safety of thousands of children as I can find no published record of this. I would also like to know why schools and parents have not been informed of this change of policy. I assume this is the case, I have received no communication about it, nor can I find any on the Bucks CC website. At the very least if a new policy in in effect that endangers children in this way I feel parents have a right to know.
My next move will be to contact each of the schools affected to find out whether they were aware of this policy and, if I can find the addresses, I will also contact the governors of each school. After that, who knows, but I am determined that I will get this ridiculous decision overturned for the safety of all of our children.
Yours sincerely,
Fiona Flaherty

So now we wait to hear back. And in the meantime I shall bombard Bucks schools and Boards of Governors with emails until such time as I get what I want.

Mein Kampf

Mein Kampf

*coughs* IS THIS THING ON? It’s been so long since I’ve written anything here I’ve forgotten how it works. Or any words. Or how to string them together. Indeed, don’t faint with shock if I start misusing “your”. Yeah. As if.  The problem is I don’t actually know what to write about and this is something I’ve been struggling with for some time. I started my blog a few years ago now, egged on by a friend and was determined that I would be one of those people that wrote something every single day. In my idealistic, frankly addled mind I saw myself as the next Belle du Jour. No, it isn’t that kind of blog but is it so beyond the realms of possibility that something could go viral? Yes, yes it is. Well, it is if your kind of blog is the kind where someone rants a bit in a small-minded way. Yep, I’m a small-minded ranter, delivering my own unique take* on such scintillating topics as eyebrow acting and that solid haired BBC moron Charlie Stayt. *small-minded rants


I did get over myself pretty quickly. I enjoyed writing my rants but I soon started to worry that I was becoming one of those people (and we all know at least one) that moans and fusses in type in what we consider to be an amusing way when in actual fact we just sound like miserable, negative bores who only like the sounds of our own voices and for whom the only opinion that counts is our own. I hope I’m not like that but I certainly can be opinionated and Charlie Stayt really is a moron.  Not surprisingly it wasn’t terribly long before the ranty ideas dried up and my blog posts got a little thinner, a little shorter and harder to give any time to. I never even wrote that oh so important piece on how annoying other parents are on the school run and what woefully inadequate drivers they are.  Some of my posts were fairly well received (I have very generous friends) and there was even talk of a “style” to my words which gave me pause for thought but I couldn’t begin to see what it was for myself so didn’t try. It’s very easy to see such things in anyone else’s writing but in my own…well, even now I’m unsure. Generally, what I write is a stream of consciousness and I rarely bother myself to go back and edit a blog post. It’s just a blog post. I wouldn’t know where to start, anyway. Without going back and rewriting the whole thing and probably changing its whole message. Not that my blog posts even have a message. Sigh.


Then something happened, a terrible TV show about prison was made and I had something to say about it.  Many, many thousands of words’ worth in 13 not-that-small parts that even got picked up by Comment is Free for a day. I enjoyed myself, for the first time I felt like I actually had a message to give, a story to tell and once the fair few readers got over their initial shock of my tale of woe they were supportive and encouraged me to take it further, maybe make it into a book. A great idea in theory. But where writing the Porridge series was cathartic and enjoyable, fictionalising my tale and making it into a whole book seemed daunting and, frankly, terrifying.  Not only that, I’d already written it in the blog, the hardest thing to then do was rewrite it from scratch for a completely different audience. Blog readers can be quite forgiving; I wouldn’t expect the same of novel readers. And with the difficulty of writing a book I also faced the difficulty of trying adjust others’ attitudes towards people with criminal records. I saw it as a one-woman mission and I was going to change the world, who knew I had it in me to be such an idealist? Certainly not me.  Needless to say I failed somewhat.  And I think maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so loath to go back and try again. Family and work mean I’m not blessed with a great deal of time at the moment but when the opportunity arose to go on to Saturday Live on R4 I took it, why wouldn’t I? Still in idealistic mode I really thought my message would get out there, show those with the Daily Mail mentality that, actually, what happened to me could happen to anyone (there but for the grace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster go I). But no. reaction outside of the studio was almost completely negative and it has taken me some time to realise it but I came away wholly demoralised. I haven’t really written anything since, I’ve lost confidence even in my ability to rant about unimportant stuff and I am far less likely to talk about prison to random strangers any more, fun though their shocked faces were to see. I still get nagged about getting on with the book occasionally but I don’t have excuses, really. At this moment in time I simply don’t want to think about it very much. They say everyone has a book inside them, and I probably do, but only the one and by the time I finish it I suspect I’ll be a very old woman indeed.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

Before I embark on this (undoubtedly ill-advised) blog I feel I should provide a disclaimer: this is my opinion, nothing more. It was formed as a result of what I have read in the papers and on social media in the days following Margaret Thatcher’s death and has come off the back of no research whatsoever. None. It has no bearing on my political opinion either, which changes all the time anyway and which is none of your business.  So, you know, chase me with your pitchforks, I don’t care. I didn’t do anything to any miners.


I was 3 years old when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister (all right, I may have researched prominent dates). I was 15 when she was ousted and clearly remember being in my school form room at lunchtime when a girl from the year below burst in, regaled us with the news and declared herself “delighted”. I was confused. As a 15 year old I didn’t give a stuff who ran the country, or the Conservative Party or even the Monster Raving Loony Party (though if I’d had the vote I would have voted for them, they sounded fun). My eldest son is now 15, he also doesn’t give a stuff who runs the country, although he does agree with me that Ed Miliband has an annoying lisp and looks like a bit of a weirdo. And that the video of his “putting aside the rhetoric” interview is hilarious. Well, it is.


So my young life was never really touched by her politics, not directly. Sure, you could argue that she changed the shape of the country but did I care about that? Of course not. That was already over and done with and I was far more concerned with my face full of zits, a curly hair helmet Anita Dobson would have been jealous of, a pair of glasses larger than my face and the overwhelming sense that I would never, ever get a boyfriend. Ever. I am too young and too soft and southern to really recall the miners’ strike beyond thinking that Arthur Scargill was kinda funny lookin’ and as a result don’t feel it is my place, even now, to comment on something I can’t fully claim to understand (because I haven’t researched it).


I hadn’t expected Mrs T’s death to have brought about a spontaneous national outpouring of grief like that of, say, Kim Jong Il, but I found myself surprised and confused again by the vitriol in some of the words expressed about someone that hadn’t been in a position of power for over 2 decades. Perhaps my relative youth means I am enough removed from her premiership to say…hang on a minute! I hope so because I’m going to anyway: hang on a minute! Was she a ruthless despot that seized power in a military coup that brought about the death of thousands? Well, no. Did she act completely alone and without the support of her party? Er…don’t think so. Did she ramp up her country’s nuclear campaign while ignoring the fact that millions of people were starving and start making threats to the US? Definitely not. Oh. What’s this? She was democratically elected not once but three times? Once AFTER the miners’ strike? Have I read that right?


OK, I know full well that I’m not suitably informed to pass any sort of comment and so I’m trying not to. I don’t have an opinion on the policies of 30 plus years ago and I don’t feel that I’m entitled to. When I learned of her death I didn’t cheer or organize a party but I did make the mistake of watching the news and looking at twitter.  First up in the inevitable vox pop on the news was an aging gentleman who said (and I’m paraphrasing, of course) he may not have agreed with her hardline politics but that it was a sad day, first woman Prime Minister, iconic figure blah blah blah. He was respectful, that was what I took away from his words. The next man, however, couldn’t have been much more than 40 and he couldn’t have been less respectful: (paraphrasing again) “Well, I come from Finchley so I am allowed to say I’m glad she’s dead.” What? Actually GLAD? Why? If nothing else you were a CHILD when she was in power! Did she nick your sweets? Push you over on purpose? What possible improvement to your life would come about as a direct result of the death of an old woman?


Now, I’ve come across some total bastards in my life who’ve done some pretty shitty things to me but would I ever say I was glad any of them were dead? Probably not.  Margaret Thatcher is clearly a figure of hate for a lot of people even after so many years but to celebrate her death seems inhuman to me somehow, not the actions of those from a civilised society. But worse than that, so many of the vitriolic comments I witnessed on twitter were by people around my age and younger than me. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, but how much of that is informed? Be honest, before you stood on national TV and declared you were glad an old woman had died were you fully apprised of all that occurred during the longest stint as Prime Minister in modern times? I’m not defending anything she did, I’m really not, but I would just question how much of what is said by those celebrating her death was based on informed opinion and how much is just recycled opinion inherited from parents.  My parents have never been particularly outspoken when it came to politics, so perhaps that is why I didn’t feel compelled to download “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and throw a street party. But even if they had been Thatcher-haters or Thatcher-lovers I would like to think I would be sensible enough and intelligent enough to make up my own mind rather than blithely follow the family line.


And what good do the words of hate do? Would she have cared that she wasn’t loved and revered by all? I very much doubt it. It’s all so unnecessary and all it does is hurt those she has left behind whose grief will be no different to yours or mine after the death of a loved one or than it would had she been a cuddly Granny figure. What did Carol Thatcher ever do to you “glad she’s dead” man? Perhaps she was the one that nicked your sweets.


There has also been a lot of talk of the cost of her funeral, how many nurses we could have paid for etc. In fact it was not dissimilar to my argument against the massive Diamond Jubilee celebrations (and the royal wedding). Whatever your views on Mrs Thatcher she will always have a place in history as the first female Prime Minister of a country where women haven’t even had the vote for 100 years. No, she didn’t come across as a particularly feminine person (I found her a bit scary) and I wonder if she didn’t over-compensate somewhat to make herself more acceptable to the British people and men in particular. She was a woman in a man’s world and would men find it more palatable to take orders from a slightly more androgynous version of a woman than a mumsy type with a high-pitched voice, warm tone and heaving breast? Who knows. And they’ll pay for the funeral and the diamond jubilee and the royal wedding and no doubt the next royal wedding and the royal christening partly out of the public purse anyway.  At least (unlike the royals) she was elected.  If nothing else Margaret Thatcher paved the way for more women to enter politics, although they are still seriously under-represented, and for more women to want to enter politics so we can thank her for the likes of Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and the godawful Theresa May. Mrs Thatcher, how could you?

We won the Olympics!

We won the Olympics!

I really wasn’t looking forward to the Olympics. The build up seemed to go on for years and I couldn’t understand why, as a nation, we were spending billions of pounds on a sporting event we wouldn’t win anything at when we are floundering in a seemingly never-ending economic downturn. “We can’t afford this!” shouted I, to no-one in particular every time there was a news report about the re-generation of East London, the building of an Olympic stadium that was surely bound not to be ready on time and still cost twelve times as much as originally budgeted for. “And we’re rubbish at sport, anyway!”

I admit it, I was a nay-sayer. Apart from Formula 1 and tennis (but only men’s) I’m not interested in sport. After all, the only other sport ever broadcast is football, something I have come to despise thanks to the talentless knuckle dragging chavs that seem to dominate it. Oh, and rugby, which is OK but not for me, I’m not even that enamoured with rugby players’ legs. And maybe the odd bit of golf, which I really don’t get; I’ve always thought Mark Twain had it right when he said it was “a good walk spoiled.” I appear to be talking myself out of my own argument here but the point I was attempting to make was that, for the most part, televised sport is unutterably dull.

But it wasn’t just the sport thing, once an all-conquering empire, was Great Britain and Northern Ireland REALLY capable of putting together a successful Olympic Games now it seems to be a broken shadow of its former self? It was only a year ago that the very city they were trying to regenerate parts of in time for the Games was burning thanks to riots, not only  the “dregs” of society taking to the streets but those considered to be “normal” as well, caught up in the moment by the chance to bag a free TV from Argos.

My overwhelming sense was that this was something that would be talked about for years but for all the wrong reasons. It was all going to go horribly wrong, it was going to be a national embarrassment AND we were going to be paying for it for at least the next thirty years, especially after the Queen’s diamond jubilee events which irritated me greatly. Can you really tell me that the previous government, the existing government and Boris Johnson would be capable of organising even a piss up in a brewery? Really? Boris is a buffoon! And Lord Coe is a smug git. The hilarious “Twenty Twelve” was a depiction of exactly how I imagined the organisation of the Olympic Games to be, a bunch of hopeless bureaucrats flailing around, every decision made adding weight to their incompetence and the inevitability of impending disaster.

A huge fuss was made when the Olympic flame* made it to our shores in a specially painted BA plane. And I found myself questioning how much that paint job actually cost. Seriously, how much DID it cost? And once it was here the torch relay was interminable, every inch of its progress covered in the local news ahead of real news stories (I absolutely cannot stand my local news programme) while some gurning idiot held aloft a giant holey lighter to rapturous applause.  Look, I know I’m being really unfair here, a lot of truly inspirational people carried that torch but if they did it in the 10,000 square mile area covered by BBC Look East I didn’t notice because I was too busy shouting at the sycophantic presenters to “TELL ME SOME ACTUAL FUCKING NEWS!!!”…”THAT ISN”T IN FUCKING NORFOLK! I DON’T LIVE ANYWHERE FUCKING NEAR FUCKING NORFOLK!!!!” I was extremely grateful that I didn’t have to do my fortnightly massive school run on the week the torch was following exactly the same route that I take in the middle of rush hour. If I had had to I may have popped.

*given that it went out in the flame handover ceremony I’d be very much surprised if the “flame” didn’t just originate from someone’s Zippo by the time it got here.

In typical British style the press wrote various negative reports in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony. So many people had tried to get tickets to events and failed, multiple times, and the ticketing system was coming across as a big fat joke. There were some ridiculous rules surrounding sponsorship thanks to the jobsworthiness of LOCOG. G4S had failed to take on enough people to deal with security and the military had to be brought in, at further cost to the tax payer. Opportunist unions planned to cause as much disruption as they could by organising strikes close to the games, no one was using the dedicated Olympic traffic lanes and everybody was questioning the capacity of Transport for London to deal with the increased volume of visitors. We were all doomed. As a nay-sayer, I was up there with the best of them I-told-you-so-ing. With the exception of the union thing. I’m not a fan of unions at the best of times and while I expected the worst from these games I thought it was unnecessary and , frankly, despicable to hold the country to ransom in that way.

As is often the case I was a great big ball of negativity and cynicism and nothing was going to change my mind. Was it? Well…. A couple of things happened in the week or two before the games officially opened. First the New York Times published an article about miserable Brits and how we all just wish the Olympics would bugger off. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist I took away. Rather than agreeing with the sentiment of the article (even though I could probably be accused of being one of these negative bastards) I found myself to be really quite angry about it. How dare they say such unpleasant things about my fellow countrymen? I wouldn’t call myself a patriot, exactly, but, despite appearances, I am proud to be British and I do love it here. The article had the same kind of effect on me as, say, a boyfriend making a nasty comment about a member of my family. I’m allowed to say what I like about them, but woe betide anyone else that does. Not that I would ever say anything other than lovely things about my family, of course.

And then Mitt Romney came to visit in an effort to show how great he is at foreign policy. Oh deary, deary me. He was nice to our faces, at least. Sort of. But is he not aware that anything he says on US television will probably make its way back to us? Really quickly? Not ready for the Olympics? I was incensed. Of course we’re bloody ready for the Olympics, HOW VERY DARE YOU? Indeed, the feeling of annoyance towards self-confessed Olympics organising genius Romney was so great that even David Cameron was able to deliver a zinger, in stating that it is probably quite easy to organise an Olympic event in the middle of nowhere, compared to one of the busiest cities in the world. Wind your neck in, Romney.

My attitude transformed pretty much immediately. I was still a little incredulous that the BBC thought it necessary to broadcast Olympics events continuously on BBC1 but I decided I would probably watch some of it. The tennis for example. And a bit of swimming. Even though I hate swimming myself it’s quite fun to watch. But probably not the track cycling, how can going around in a circle be fun to watch?And only a tiny bit of the opening ceremony, I was worried it was going to be rubbish and I didn’t know if I could bear to look.

Ha! If only I knew! The opening ceremony was everything I hadn’t expected, fun, enjoyable and well organised. Indeed it was only marred by the bladdy awful BBC commentary, especially by Trevor Nelson. Oh, and McCartney, but we’ll gloss over that. The Bond/Queen sketch was a work of genius, we were certain when she turned round it would be one of those lookeylikeys that doesn’t actually lookeylikey at all. It’s just a bit of a shame the poor woman was bored out of her tiny mind when the ceremony went on way past her bedtime. In fact as she sat there stony faced, picking her nails, I nearly spluttered my tea out as Huw Edwards said “and the queen looks proudly on”. Yep, picking out a bit of spinach from dinner and wishing she was tucked up in bed with a Horlicks. She’s 86, you know. I had very low expectations of the Danny Boyle extravaganza we had been promised but was surprised to find myself really enjoying it, with huge, impressive props appearing as Isambard Kingdom Brunel looked on. Although the NY Times (again) managed to mistake him for a “Dickens character”. Good work. It was all very “British”…although my dad pointed out that it showed that Britain was built on the broken backs of the workers. That made me laugh quite a lot.

As the athletes started to emerge the inanity of the BBC commentary increased and as progress was slow there seemed to be less and less for them to say. But they said it anyway. My husband did the sensible thing and fell asleep but I persevered because I didn’t want to miss the end. Little did I know that would come courtesy of the worst version of Hey Jude I’ve ever heard, shamelessly murdered by the very man that penned it (I checked, Wikipedia says he wrote it so it must be true).

But enough about all that, the Olympics isn’t really about the quality of ceremonies, it’s all about the sports, athletes at the top of their game vying to be the best in the world. And the table tennis as well. I’m sorry, I just can’t take it seriously. As I’ve already said I’m not bothered about sport so although I decided to watch the road cycling on the first proper day, I didn’t expect to enjoy it, I’ve never watched cycling before but it was fascinating and OK, we didn’t get the expected medal but who cares? Apart from Mark Cavendish, of course. Thinking that would be the end of my sport watching time (it was a very long race) I didn’t then expect to get into the rowing, or the gymnastics, the swimming, or the track cycling. My god, the track cycling. “I’m not going to watch the track cycling,” I said, “it looks really boring.” What an idiot, it was one of the single most exciting things of the whole games for me, on my feet, screaming at the TV, willing the British team on to take the gold by the tiniest of margins. Which they did, 7 out of 10 times. How could anyone fail to be inspired by these people? Their strength, speed and determination is awesome in the true sense of the word.

Apart from the track cycling I was also bowled over by the athletics. I’ve seen athletics on TV before and been bored witless but this time something had changed. With the weight of a nation’s expectation on her shoulders somehow Jessica Ennis still managed to deliver, within minutes MK boy Greg Rutherford took long jump gold (not that Look fecking East give much of a shit) and then Mo Farah turned up. I love Mo. I’ve loved him since the Sport Relief sketch with Chris Hayward and Nat Saunders’ Misery Bear but even more since he became the first person to ever beat The Cube. I know that’s sad but I don’t care. He beat The Cube! With lives to spare! That 10,000m race had us on our feet, screaming at the TV again, jumping up and down. And when he won I wanted to cry. I didn’t because I don’t do crying, not where people can see but the emotion of the moment hit me, and it hit me hard. What was this feeling I was experiencing? A sort of warm sensation in the region of my chest? Could it be…..national pride??? Yep. For a brief couple of weeks I became a full on Team GB (and NI) supporter, watching random sports I’ve never seen before and loving every minute. I didn’t recognise myself, I was so….positive. I even cheered on Andy Murray. I HATE Andy Murray. I was so excited about every event, and so happy for the winners, whether they were GB or not. But especially when they were GB. Our ridiculously optimistic medal target seemed suddenly doable, for the first time ever we were actually winning things. Is that why I changed? I don’t think so, winning was only part of it. For me it was all about getting caught up in it, cheering for people I’d never heard of before, some of who I’ve already forgotten, to see the delight on their faces at the end and moments like Katherine Copeland shouting “We’ve won the Olympics!” to her sculls partner. Nothing in the world could beat the roar of the crowd in the Olympic stadium as every Brit competed but they seemed to save the loudest cheers for Mo Farah and I’m so glad I was there to see it, even if it was only on the telly. It was simply amazing. No wonder he won both his golds.

And now I’m sad it’s over. Of course if it was on all the time it wouldn’t be special but London 2012 was wonderful, they managed to do it in style. In your face, Mitt Romney. Sure, we’ve got the Paralympics to come and I hope Channel 4 do it justice because the BBC were on fire with their coverage (with the obvious exception of their ceremony commentary). But will it be the same? I don’t know, but I’m really hoping so. And I have just one thing left to ask. Who do I write to to stop them giving the Olympic Stadium to a football team? Seriously.

A face for radio…

A face for radio…

Those of you that know me will know that I found myself in the enviable (or unenviable, it depends on your stance) position of appearing on Radio 4′s excellent Saturday Live programme last weekend to talk about things prisony. For the few days leading up to it I was horribly nervous about it all, not being certain if I actually would be on and absolutely terrified that I would either clam up or say completely the wrong thing. I was going to be on with Sir Alan Parker and a 93 year old former prisoner of war as well as one of their regular poets, all of whom have considerably more experience of being on the radio than me. I woke up on Saturday morning a full hour before the alarm was due to go off and decided to get up, faff about and collect my thoughts. For days, weeks even, I’d been holding conversations in my head where I would answer my own made up questions and quite frankly it was starting to drive me a little potty. Try as I might to stop thinking about what I would say if asked any number of more and more preposterous questions my annoying brain wouldn’t switch off and as a result in the days leading up to it I struggled to get to sleep a fair few times. Thankfully I was incredibly tired the night before and drifted off easily and although I woke up at 5 I felt suitably refreshed and satisfied that I wouldn’t end up struggling to find words like “chair”, “the” and “door”. Well, it does happen. More and more often if I’m honest, I really should read more to keep my vocabulary ticking over.

I was pretty surprised on the morning that in spite of waking up far too early I was relatively calm, not over-thinking what I would say too much and not desperately trying to think up an excuse to not go and do it. I was even more surprised that my taxi turned up on time (in fact he was early) and that I was relaxed and unrushed when I got to the station to catch my train into London. I even managed to concentrate on my book on the train, and of course my phone which was necessary to cover all social networking bases…I can’t possibly do anything without broadcasting it to anyone that will listen. The fact that most of the time no one at all is listening doesn’t stop me either. The Victoria line was suspended for the weekend (I hadn’t thought to check) so I decided to walk the 20 minutes to Broadcasting House rather than fanny about on the tube and I was glad I did, it was a cold, crisp morning and early enough to be devoid of shoppers. And muggers, thankfully. Even with the walking I was still horribly early, arriving a good half hour before everyone else and I sat waiting, deliberately avoiding the tea and coffee that had been provided for us (my bladder is pathetic), half listening to the Today Programme but unable to take any of it in and wondering to myself exactly what I’d let myself in for. Eventually the others arrived, we made polite conversation, met Rev Coles, former Communard, great wit, MK fan and indeed presenter of the show and filed through to the studio. Gulp. I told Sir Alan that no. 2 son had done Bugsy Malone as his last school play and it turns out it’s a very popular choice in schools. Given that he probably hears such things all the time he was incredibly polite and I must say I thought he was lovely. Unless you count the one in HMP Downview’s media house I’d never been in a radio studio before and I found it was a little scary, there were several microphones around a table, soundproofing on the walls the like of which I’d not seen before and, inexplicably, there was a cooker in the corner. Through a large window a number of people were sitting in front of a console containing many buttons just LOOKING at us. I fought the urge to wave. We could hear the end of the Today Programme and I couldn’t take my eyes off the clock, suddenly I really was terrified and there was no escape. We talked amongst ourselves while I assume they checked we could all be heard and I said little and probably looked quite sick. And then it began, not with me thank goodness and I listened carefully while Alan Parker was interviewed (did I mention that I love him?) and thinking how conversational it all was and how flipping interesting. Richard Coles never seemed to be looking at a script or list of questions and frankly I was a little awed by it all. Genuine awe, you understand, not modern “that’s awesome” rubbish. But with every second that ticked by, and every question and answer it was getting closer to my turn. Erk.

If you were to ask me now what I was asked, how I answered, what I was thinking, how long it went on for, anything, I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t listened it back and I don’t really want to but I’m pretty sure I didn’t make a giant tit of myself and that’s all that matters. I know I was careful about how I put things, was extremely careful about how I talked about the actions of my ex-partner and I know that in doing so I made myself look like a far worse person than I am. Or so it would appear from the initial response to my appearance. The Daily Mail readers were out in force and of course their knee jerk responses are always the first to be given. How dare the BBC give airtime to a woman that admits she committed a terrible crime? Well, yes she does, but did you notice how she didn’t really talk about the circumstances? She couldn’t because she doesn’t want to incur the wrath of her former partner, not when he holds all the power when it comes to seeing her children. Sad but true. It was all over so quickly that I feel I didn’t say enough to get my true message across: this could have happened to anyone. But at the same time it could have NOT happened to me. I felt threatened, I genuinely thought I was going to die and I overreacted. Does that mean I should spend the rest of my life languishing at Her Majesty’s pleasure? Well, I don’t think so. I don’t think I am a bad person, a stupid person, yes, but not bad. I admit that I drive over the speed limit on the motorway regularly and when I was under 18 I drank alcohol in pubs. I have never shoplifted, never used or sold illegal substances, never mugged anyone or burgled them, never imported drugs from abroad and never murdered anyone in cold blood (other crimes are available). I paid my debt to society, I lost my liberty, I lost forever my ability to be a normal mother to my sons. But I took it on the chin, accepted the things I could not change and bloody well made the most of them. I did whatever I could in prison to fill my time and to enrich my life. I got fit, I read books, did courses that interested me, I was respectful (but very cheeky) to the officers I encountered and I earned all the privileges a model prisoner could. I kept in touch with my children, my family and my friends, I didn’t let it ruin my life and hopefully it didn’t ruin any of theirs.

But this is only half of my message. The other half is about prison in general. Because of my experience I will always have an interest in prisons and how custodial sentences are used to punish and rehabilitate. At the moment I think the system is failing very badly in what it is meant to ultimately achieve. Yes, a prison sentence is designed to remove people from society for the protection of the public and at that it is of course very effective but not enough is done to rehabilitate offenders, to address their offending behaviour, to make peace with their victims with restorative justice where appropriate or to help them prepare for life back in society. Levels of illiteracy are high but basic education is not compulsory, and neither is there any incentive to pursue it. How can anyone, in particular a prisoner, have any hope of getting and keeping a job upon release if they haven’t learnt the basic skills a lot of us take for granted? How can they get a place to live if they don’t have a job? How can they avoid crime if they have no home or no job? And so it goes on. Re-offending rates are so high it defies belief that so little is being done about it. Or at least that’s the way it appears. In truth there are a number of organisations out there helping ex-offenders learn new skills, giving them a chance where other people wouldn’t. Job loyalty amongst ex-offenders is much higher than amongst the general population so for the most part return on such investment is good. So why aren’t they shouting about it? The problem is that the Daily Mail readers are so vocal with their ill-informed opinions that while all this good work is being done no one really wants to own up to it so it carries on under the radar. Let us not forget the National Offender Management Service who employed me after my release to write and edit an e-bulletin about the seven pathways to reduce re-offending (of which employment is one) and who, in a fit of fear, decided to pull the plug on the project leaving me very suddenly without a job. A job that I relied on to pay the rent on my home (another pathway), maintain ties with my family (another)…etc. Ironic, no? Being so risk averse is no help to anyone and it genuinely angers me that this is the norm when what should be happening is the education of the masses. Without the help of the masses we can’t reduce re-offending, we need schemes in the community to help ex-offenders turn away from crime and earn their place in society. This work starts in prison but it shouldn’t end there. Instead of condemning “criminals” we should be helping them choose another path. Don’t forget that a prison sentence is a far greater burden on the taxpayer than community based alternatives and the cost of putting re-offenders back inside is in the billions. I’m not saying that all prisoners can be rehabilitated but it’s not as black and white as many people think. Given that prisons are fit to burst and reoffending rates are at 67% it doesn’t look like the current system is working, and there has to be another way.

This afternoon I was listening to Julia Hartley-Brewer’s programme on LBC where they were discussing “what prison is for”. There were one or two fairly balanced calls from listeners and then a former police officer called in saying that prison is too easy and that if he had his way they’d bring back the birch. He was disgusted that prisoners had televisions. He wanted prison to be about punishment and nothing else. Is the loss of liberty not enough? It surely was for me. Another caller said he’d spent a week in Wandsworth and described it as being “like a five star hotel”. I beg to differ! I was so incensed I felt compelled to call in and put the record straight. Amazingly I got on and got the last word. Prison was NOT a holiday camp and neither is it the easy option. It is and should be about rehabilitation. I seem to have developed a bit of a taste for this radio lark, watch out Daily mail readers!

If you would like to hear the Saturday live interview you can find it here.

It’s all for charidee, mate

It’s all for charidee, mate

It’s that time of year again, you know the one, Children in Need time. If you’ve read my Porridge blogs you’ll know that I find Children in Need to be somewhat trying: the celebrities are ill prepared for live performances; the links are poor; the gags are poorer and delivered so badly that every single one of them dies on its arse; the newsreaders are not designed to strut their stuff on a dance floor, their bodies don’t bend the right way; the VTs are distressing, deliberately I know, but it doesn’t mean I have to like or appreciate them. They make me want to cry and crying publicly is something I hate doing. They guilt me into giving money I can’t afford every time. And, as is the wont of the standard telethon, it goes on for about 6 hours too long. Nyeeeeeeeeah.

With every telethon, be it CiN, Comic Relief or Sport Relief there is inevitably a charidee single. These seem to fall into 2 very distinct categories: the comedy charidee single and the worthy charidee single. Let me give you an example, in 1986 Cliff Richard and the Young Ones did a rendition of “Living Doll” for Comic Relief (I can’t believe it’s that old). I love that song (not the original you understand) especially when they sing “fies my soul” and when Vivian bashes Cliff on the head with a mallet at the end. As a child of about 10 I loved the silliness of it and the shoutiness of their singing. I love all of the comedy charidee singles without exception because there’s nothing I like more than people poking fun at themselves, I even loved Hale and Pace’s “The Stonk” and bought the single. Don’t tell anyone, will you? Even Children in Need has the odd good single, like the excellent children’s character one that Peter Kay did a couple of years ago but for the most part all charidee singles are utter pop based rubbish. This might not be so bad if they didn’t occasionally butcher a perfectly good song. Or use the Spice Girls, S Club 7 or the SugaBabes (not all worthy singles have been produced by bands whose name starts with S, it’s just a coincidence). Why is it though that when they choose a song to murde…I mean “cover” they choose one I like? Do they do it on purpose? Take Girls Aloud vs The SugaBabes version of “Walk this Way” classically covered by Run DMC in the 80s. It was beyond dire, and they even tried to recreate the video which was both embarrassing and not as funny as they seemed to think.

Now I know what you’re thinking, I’m being all Victor Meldrew again and maybe I am but the fact is it pains me that the vast majority of music produced these days seems to be manufactured pap and that these autotuned muppets think nothing of destroying songs written by genuinely talented artists. And now, you see, I’ve reached my point because what this is really about is my horror at the choice for this year’s Comic Relief official single. One of my all-time favourite songs, Massive Attack’s Teardrop, a beautiful, haunting song has been utterly ruined by the treatment it has received by “The Collective” a group of predominantly pasty, chubby faced 12 year olds who “rap” some new (incredibly lame) lyrics and warble (badly) the original lyrics. I really have no idea who most of them are. I read on BBC’s Newsbeat site (BBC news dumbed down to single syllables for morons) that said it was the “most credible cover yet.” Before going on to explain what credible means. Watch it here (you’ll probably need earplugs unless you’re DWTK).

I’m not against the charidee song per se but I honestly think they would be far more successful and sell far more copies if they always did something silly. I would buy a silly song every year because they make me smile, and I bet there are a lot of people out there around my age who love Teardrop as much as I do and are just as upset as me about it. I know it’s only music but the music I love has always really mattered to me because of the way I can associate it with particular points in my life. And while I know many people now associate it with the theme tune of House (at least outside of Europe) to me it reminds me of being in my early 20s seeing the video for the first time and being totally transfixed.

So I’m afraid Children in Need won’t be selling a copy of their travesty of a cover to me and, as the “brains” behind it Gary Barlow needs to have a word with himself. And to retire from music as a punishment.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

My daughter is 3 and has no idea what my name is. None whatsoever. She knows what my husband’s name is, though, indeed she very naughtily calls him by his name often. “Adun!” she shouts, “Adun, where are you?” I didn’t say she pronounced it correctly. She knows the boys’ names and doesn’t confuse them like I do. She can distinguish between her grandparents, Nanny and Grandad and Grandma and Grandpa. She’s even stopped calling Hattie “Pattie”, something she did for some months and I’m still not completely convinced she wasn’t doing it deliberately, after all she could say “hat” perfectly well. But as for me, well, I’m just “Mummy”. Or “Muvver” when Joshua has been being a monkey and calling me “Mother” because he knows it annoys me.

As far as Poppy is concerned I don’t have another name because she’s never really heard it, not at home, anyway. That’s right, my husband NEVER calls me by my name. EVER. Well, not unless he really really has to, like if I’m in a different part of the house and he’s calling me to let me know I have a phone call or something. It doesn’t happen often and on those occasions Poppy’s probably wondering who on earth he’s calling to. It’s all a bit strange, not least because I’ve known Adam since I was 19 when we became very close friends and I’m pretty certain he used my name in the same way that normal people do. But since we’ve been together it’s like there’s some kind of mental blank. Whatever is wrong with him?

I have a vague recollection that when we first got together he called me Helen, the name of the girlfriend before me. He had been with her for a number of years so it’s hardly surprising but in my vague recollection I believe there may have been some merciless teasing about it. On the other hand the recollection is SO vague it may just have been a dream. But if it was real then I guess that could explain his reluctance to use my name. At least at the start.

So what does he call me? Thankfully not “woman” (think “get in the kitchen and make me some pies, woman!”). No, when we were first together I guess he didn’t call me anything. Then it evolved into “lovely girlfriend”/”gorgeous girlfriend” and variations on the theme. When we got married it changed of course to, guess what, “lovely wife” etc. I still think it’s weird but it’s even weirder when he actually says my name. I would worry that he has a whole other secret family somewhere else and keeps it simple so he never makes any mistakes except he rarely leaves the house except to go to the gym. No time for secret families. I’ve asked him why he does it and he doesn’t know, it’s just one of those things. I probably shouldn’t worry about it really until he starts calling me “horrible wife”.

Mother of the Year….

Mother of the Year….

….I am not. I proved that yet again this morning when, after an hour and a half’s faffing about, I didn’t realise it was time to take Poppy to pre-school. And I had forgotten to make her lunch. I drove like a maniac and we made it, of course we did after all tons of parents let their little darlings find their own card with their name on (very irritating), but not without more than a modicum of stress. And questioning what on earth I had been thinking as I dicked about on the internet all morning and listened to the news.

It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this. I vividly remember an occasion when Josh was about the same age as Poppy (so a good 9 years ago) and was also at pre-school while Jake was at proper school. I knew what time I needed to pick both boys up but for some reason I was only thinking in terms of Jake’s pick up time, not Joshua’s, a good 10 minutes earlier. As the time of Joshua’s pick up arrived and I glanced at the clock, the horror of my stupidity struck me and I had to run all the way to pre-school, normally about a 10 minute walk. This was before I had taken up running too so you can imagine how that went. I was pretty disgusted with myself and I have to say I didn’t do it again but it made me late for Jake as well and my stress levels were off the scale.

Clearly I’m very absent minded and it probably doesn’t help that I’m not one of those “yummy mummies” (I really really really really hate that expression) you read about in the paper. You know the ones, all hands on with Tarquin and Fenella, dividing their days up with nature trails, crafting, art lessons, tennis lessons, samba band practice and all the other middle class rubbish I can’t be bothered with. Tarquin and Fenella would never be plonked in front of the TV all day long, even if some of the programmes do have some educational qualities. These mummies are all in direct competition with each other and while I can see the benefit of a lot of what they do, who really has time for all that? Life really is too short to be cleaning glitter and homemade play-doh off every available surface. We read a lot of books, play silly games and do lots of crazy dancing, is that not enough? Do I really have to feel guilty that we don’t leave the house much to follow other pursuits?

I don’t think any of my children have suffered from my more hands off approach to parenting. They all enjoy reading, even Hattie who was “reading” Peace at Last to me this morning by pointing at the pictures and talking gibberish, with the odd exclamations of “KITTY!” They all enjoy drawing, one thing I do actively encourage at home because it doesn’t make much mess if you only give them pencils. Both boys do well at school and apply themselves to it, both enjoy sports but equally they both enjoy computer games. Poppy, while a bit (a lot) of a handful at home is very well behaved at pre-school and is coming along in leaps and bounds and I’m sure now that she has the opportunity to do all the messy stuff I won’t let her do at home she appreciates the fun of it all the more. And there’s no question that all of the children appreciate my love of baking, and for the boys that has extended into them wanting to bake too.

So while I am a bit rubbish and am a fully paid up member of the Mean Mother’s Club I think I’d rather be like me than Mother of the Year.

IJP’s 5th Birthday

IJP’s 5th Birthday

Five years ago I was a very different person. Well, that’s not strictly true, I had been a very different person and had slowly, over the course of 9 or 10 months gone back to who I always used to be, silly, sarcastic, a teller of rubbish jokes, much more confident and comfortable in my own skin. You wouldn’t think a prison sentence would do that to you.  Then in September of 2006 I was allowed out on day release to work in Shoreditch for Inside Job Productions, a new production company started off the back of a successful media course delivered in HMP Downview to around 20 women. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and did very well, obtaining a distinction overall and was lucky enough to be employed as IJP’s very first Production Assistant. No one really knew what that would mean, so we pretty much made it up as we went along, and over the years as PAs have come and gone the job has evolved. You can find out more about IJP here.

It hardly seems possible that it was 5 years ago that we celebrated the launch of IJP in a swanky bar just off Fleet Street. The prosecco flowed a little too freely (though not to us prisoners), Adam Shaw of Working Lunch looked a little unsure as to why he was there (it was probably because Adrian Chiles wasn’t available, not that anyone had heard of him then what with it being pre-One Show days and all), and Ed Miliband thankfully didn’t mention strikes being wrong. A prison officer we didn’t even know made a bit of a tit of themselves but apart from that a high old time was had by all. I made a comic about it. I like making comics.

I hope Ed Miliband doesn’t see it (as if!).

Today a much smaller group of us gathered in a bar in Hoxton to celebrate 5 years of film making and 5 years of changing the lives of prisoners. I made a special cake to mark the occasion (it was HUGE) and amazingly we managed to easily demolish half of it.

I caught up with people I haven’t seen since I left prison, met new people that did the PA job after me and we all had a great chinwag about all aspects of how it has helped us become the people we are today, and how being a part of it changed our lives. All in all it was a flipping brilliant day :)