DAY 38: Mon 20 April

Asparagus tips, a family reunion, and a Gypsy scandal

It’s only when you get up late that you realise how many little jobs you get done first thing as a matter of course. Now they have to be caught up with quickly, especially on a Monday when the refuse collectors are coming, along with the recycling crew. 

And because I slipped up last night and didn’t finish my diary there is some editing to do in between everything else. But first I must check on Mother Hen. She is up and about and leading the charge to get out into the garden – so she seems to be ok, after all. However I will keep an eye on her during today.

There are plenty of other jobs to be done around the house, but plenty more in the garden. The weather as fine again although there is a nippy wind, as I discover when taking a late breakfast. The chickens know that I am eating something they could also share and gather at my feet. They quickly appreciate that nothing is coming their way and wander off. 

There are more runner beans than I had anticipated, so I insert a few more in the existing enclosure and try to work out where the rest can go. There are also more tomatoes than I can handle. Perhaps I can put them all out on the bench in front of the house for passers-by to help themselves. 

But the postman has arrived bringing a a package I had forgotten all about – ten rooted asparagus plants. That requires some rethinking in the garden and the creation of a whole new specialist bed, protected from the birds – the brood as well as the wild ones. (Mother Hen disappears again and I find her resting in the hutch, she is sitting on another hen’s egg, so she must be broody.)

My endeavours takes up the best part of the day, and I am still at it when the No.10 press conference is on, and I miss it. There is barely time for a wash up before it’s story time but the boys are wrapped up in other things this evening. That enables me to take part in a family Zoom to wish my nephew’s son a happy birthday. Only twenty one of us (out of a possible 63!) from Brighton, Bristol, Douglas (Isle of Man), Hove, Ottershaw, Shoreham, Teddington, West Byfleet, and Woodley (Berks) get together for a slightly chaotic but fun online party with remote cakes and candles and a lot of laughter.

I had to leave early to join another Zoom meeting – this time a Bristol NUJ Branch informal discussion about the impact of coronavirus on local journalism and journalists, as well as the union nationally. We should have had a Delegate Meeting in Southport this weekend, where a key issue would have been the union’s parlous finances. 

Scare stories have appeared in Press Gazette, suggesting the union might be bankrupted without an major increase in subscriptions from the members – or face a merger. We agree that neither scenario is likely to happened – we always find a way of muddling through, and anyway who wants to merge with bunch of bolshie journalists who like nothing better than questioning everything and challenging anyone who thinks they have the right to be in charge?

Journalists are being laid off, freelance photographers are losing work, advertising revenue is dropping, and Bristol’s hyperlocals are at risk of collapse unless some of the public service advertising put out by the government, the NHS and local authorities can reach outlets that get close to their communities. We could be losing an invaluable resource if they go; they are often run by  journalists made redundant by the mainstream media. 

Good to hear today that The Bristol Cable has been nominated for the prestigious Orwell Prize for its investigation of modern slavery at the Lopresti ice cream firm run by relatives of local Tory MP Jack Lopresti. They have already won a British Journalism Award for the same investigation. I am proud to have played a small part in the five year investigation.

I am exhausted after a busy day in the garden and more than happy to let my house guest to do the cooking tonight and he delivers a tasty steak in a mushroom curry sauce with creamy mash. It puts me in a good mood which is then destroyed by a repeat of the malevolent Dispatches documentary `The Truth about Traveller Crime’ which seems determined, through its script, style and editing, to further demonise Gypsies and Irish Travellers. It really felt that Anja Popps set out to convince her audience that Gypsies and Travellers are a danger to the rest of society, a law unto themselves whom the police are powerless to challenge. The use of disguised voices and hidden identities, and right wing Tory MP Andrew Selous  (who once wanted to refuse benefits to people who don’t speak English) all adds to the impression that these are dangerous people whose very presence will increase the likelihood of crime. She failed to interview the Gypsy Roma and Travelkers Police Association (GRTPA) who might have been able to set her straight on a few things. [But then, when the GRTPA was launched in the House of Commons, none of the national press invited  bothered to attend.)

Complaints are flooding into Channel 4 and my friend Jake Bowers has published issued a helpful analysis of what is wrong with the programme,

It takes me back to a sickening incident many years ago here in Bristol when police and customs officers made an early morning raid on an informal Irish Travellers site close to my family home. Much unquestioned publicity was given to the allegation that £1,500 of stolen property had been seized. Juveniles were arrested, including an illiterate schizophrenic who was said to have signed a confession. The ‘stolen property’ was put on display at a local police station with much fanfare and the public were invited to come and claim their jewellery. Yet none was claimed for the simple reason that it was all the legitimate property of the Travellers. Yet there was no media hype about that.

When I asked local journalists why they had not sought the views of the Travellers themselves, their response was the same – they were scared to enter the site. So I offered to take them on. They were pleasantly surprised by who they met and what they saw. One reporter who did run a story giving their side made sure her byline didn’t appear on it because she did not want to be thought of as sympathetic to the Travellers.

Prejudice against Gypsies  and Travellers, and Romaphobia, are still the last acceptable form of racism, and this programme was a throwback of the most objectionable kind. 

Having got that off my chest I shall now retire.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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