We are taught to question everything.

From why a council-run leisure club is spending hundreds of thousands of tax payers money on new equipment, whilst running at a loss. To why a homeless man living in a tent isn’t deemed ‘homeless enough’ by the people who have the power to secure him a roof over his head.

We are taught to recognise when a case switches to ‘active’. To not disclose that the man just arrested for allegedly burgeoned his mother to death with a spoon has a history of violent crime. Or that the green grocer saw a 6”2 dark haired male with a spliff-smoking rat tattoo on his neck, fleeing the scene with said spoon. It’s a little case of TMI.

We are taught to be fair. To give the council-tax dodging councillor the opportunity to reply. To defend himself. Despite the evidence on the magistrates charge street, despite the overwhelming urge to do the complete opposite.

We are taught to be reactive. To watch a situation unfold and instinctively understand that this is news worthy, and the public gotta know.

We are taught to have a thick skin. Even when a someone wants to throw you under a bus in a public Facebook group for ‘not doing your job’ when in fact, the shoe was steadfast on the other foot.

We are taught to understand the legal restrictions and allowances placed on journalists in a court of law. To understand that we cannot include in our report the heckling cousin of the alleged murderer in the public gallery, unless Mary-sue has given evidence. We must understand a section 45, and an 11. Never forget an 11. We cannot record, but we can tweet.

We are taught to observe-only. Keeping our opinionated brains on sleep-mode. Record the facts, but more importantly, record the balanced facts. Don’t judge the woman who stakes out abortion clinics with posters of unborn foetuses to ‘help’ pregnant women. Don’t judge, but listen. And tell her tale too.

We are taught that we are the voice of a community. And we must not take advantage of that position. We must be approachable, and take the time to listen to Barbara tell us her life story. And as we listen we discover Barbara climbed Everest, blindfolded, and won the Nobel peace prize. Because you just never know.

We are taught the mechanics of the country. From how the queen is funded, to which council organises grass verge cutting. Elections and by-elections. District, county, borough and parish. Committees and Select committees. Political parties and independents. We learn it, so that we can translate the minefield of bureaucracy.

We are taught to protect our source. M15 style. Don’t give up their identity, keep mum. Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights will back you, it backed the other guy.

We are taught that shorthand is gospel. A dictaphone can only do so much, and in court or caught out on the hop, it is useless. Teeline is gruelling. It takes dedication, and hundreds of hours of practice- just to get good enough for our CV not be ignored by potential editors. It is a mountain to climb.

We are taught accuracy, honesty and integrity. To maintain our reputation by recording the facts, just as they are. “It’s Mandy with an ‘ie’”

We are taught that donning a wig and specs combo to catch the taxi firm that has reportedly discriminated against blondes with aviators, is a last ditch resort only.

Above all we are taught to be brave. To have faith in our direction.

To tell people’s stories is a privilege, and we are taught never to loose site of that.

Shut the front door: 2017

I’ve just sent off ToddlerMonster’s ‘big school’ application.

It’s the last thing I will do with any coherent sense this year.

I didn’t consciously leave it until the dying monuments of the year before I hit send, but now I come to think about it, it’s fairly fitting to be sailing out of the year with a school place on the horizon. *Wishes teaching profession Bon chance*

The school-app thing has given me a little nudge to pause my shorthand exam revision and tap away to you for the very last time this year.

It’s an odd thing studying as a Muma; I have my first shorthand exam next week, and revision passages and exercises are taking up as much of my time as I can parentally justify.

So far this morning I have had several study breaks.

And Not to watch Neighbours like the good old uni days.

-I’ve continued my good work as toilet assistant.

-Created a sylvanian village, most notably developed a nursery extension.

-Ordered 500,000 paw patrol plates, napkins, cups, balloons and party bag alternatives in blind panic for The 4th Birthday next week.

-Prayed it will arrive in time.

-Pinned several paw patrol cakes that I don’t have a hope in hell of replicating.

Before journo-school broke up for Christmas we all quizzed our tutor on shorthand exam scenarios:

“what if someone sneezes and we miss a bit of the audio?”

“What if a police car goes by and the sirens drown out the passage we are taking down?”

But at no time did anyone ask, “What if 2 under 7’s streak through the classroom screeching “IT’S MINE, IT’S MINE, DON’T BITE ME”.

No one asked that.

And I can tell you, if that happens during the exam, then I go this.

My kids have me prepped.

An atomic bomb could go off and I’m fairly confident I will not take a blind bit of notice.

2017 has been totally bonkers and for once it’s been that way not just because I am keeper of small people.

I set off the year hoping beyond hope that I might get my writing published somewhere, anywhere.

Hoping that this might be the year I try to make a path parallel to parenting.

ToddlerMonster’s school application was looming and I wanted to set myself up for a life of writing after the full-on full-time parenting was somewhat assisted by the 9am-3pm world.

I get a bit giddy, you know, that excited pukey-pit of your stomach feeling, when I consider that I might actually pull that off.

It’s becoming more believable that one day I may just be paid to write.

And have a J O B.

Doing something that I don’t resent.

Doing something that I… kind of love.

Signing up to start my NCTJ Diploma in Journalism was a total leap of faith.

It feels quite mad to write this but as I sit here in the dying hours of 2017 I can say that I now regularly write for a newspaper, host a news show on the radio, and help out at a flipping massive radio station along side a truly inspirational journalist.

I honestly have to pinch myself.

(However, I am also still a terrible cook. I offered my husband a ‘fresh’ pizza from the freezer last week. I set fire to my kitchen last month, and continue to be unable to drive in heels. – We can’t tick all of the boxes can we now…)

Lidl’s ‘random’ aisle used to be the most unpredictable, exciting part of my week.

It’s surreal and I’ll be honest, the juggling act between wannabe-journo and Muma is incredibly tough.

The logistics of child care, alone, are mind blowing.

I had no idea what working parents were going through until now.

But 2017 has shown me that one thing’s for sure: It’s ok to be a parent AND go after a dream.

There’s room for both.

Just about.

As long as you have an understanding nursery.

And fantastic family and friends.

God only knows what 2018 has in store:

I think I’m ready.

Hang on, I’m not sure…

This Muma Went To Court…

“I sentence you to 10 years imprisonment… Take him down!”
I shit you not, real life judges actually utter those words. Not just the ones off the telly box! Obviously those amongst us that have ever graced a court will be familiar with the Netflix-esq setting and those loaded setentenses which go hand in hand with the slightly overdone wood panelling. 

I on the other hand,I am ‘just a mum’. I’ve never received the golden ticket calling me up for jury duty (as much as I have willed that summons to drop through the letter box – especially in those early years of motherhood. A legitimate break from Mumming? Yella.) I have never been naughty enough to find myself in the goldfish bowl of a dock, and never has it ever occurred to me to exercise my right to witness justice being done, to pop along to our local court and take a pew. 

Until now of course. 

Part of my journalism training is based around court room reporting. Basically learning what you can and can’t write. Pretty crucial as a little slip up could see this muma enjoying a child free break on the inside… (However tempting that might be during my kids’ rabid slagging matches mostly thanks to multiple Sylvanian family custody battles). 

Well I wasn’t going to wait until our class were escorted to a magistrates court for a speeding find or the like. I thought I’d go in big guns: so last week I headed over to Crown Court. 
Bold, right?!

This posed a number of issues; smart clothes were suggested on the website so I dug out my funeral coat and decided that putting on lip gloss was fundamentally ticking that ‘smart’ box. 

The Crown court in our town has been there since the year dot. Wondering if I looked more Crim or barrister I asked the kindly security guards where I might find the ‘menu’ for the days proceedings. (Menu?! This isn’t the sodding Harvester! Why did I say that?! Running order, list, itinerary! Any of those would have better helped mask the blaitnet imposter syndrome plastered all over my face). 
Anyway, I chose a court after being given the options like I was ordering a fry up:

 “Well there’s a murder starting in Court A, a Sexual assault in court B, and if your quick you’ll catch the beginning of the rape trial in C!”
Christ. 
Proper baddies, sorry, alledged baddies, were everywhere. 
On the other side of what can only be described as the BFG’s mahogany double door was one of the most elaborate court room movie sets I’ve ever seen. Men in wigs, dark wood panelling, ladies in wigs, a Judge, capes, and a mahoosive glass dock right in the middle of it all. With an alledged baddie inside.
This is probably the right time to tell you that I love drama. A drama magnet if you will. I love nothing more than ‘information sharing’ with my friends, and getting the inside scoop on anything I can. 
Suddenly here I was, hearing the ultimate secret. 
The usher of the court did give me a slight death stare, but we quickly moved passed that as I asked her 101 questions during the ‘rise’ (when the judge left to hang out in his chamber, how Game of Thrones of him!)



My jaw dropped as the judge summarised this particular man’s crimes (this was a quickie before the main trail of the day, stack ‘m high…) He described how this alledged baddie had injured another so badly that the victim would need care for the rest of his life. How not only had he committed this crime and pleaded guilty (which he got a pat on the back for), he offered no explanation as to why he stabbed another, and showed no remourse. 

The accused just stood there in a hoodie, slouched to one side when the judge asked him to stand for sentencing. How could a fellow human be that evil? 
He had not one member of his family there, not one friend. What must his mother think! 
No one else watched him get sentenced to 10 years inprisonment. I was the only joe bloggs to see him meet his fate that morning.

 

I felt sick. (Point taken that I need to harden up before I take to the press bench!). 
I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Or ears. 
I watch endless crime programs, a good court room drama is always a particular favourite of mine. But this was real life. I wasn’t wrapped up in my blankly with my old slippers on the sofa. This baddie’s next 10 years was being served up right in front of me.
I did spot the judge notice my astonishment. I have been blessed (?!?) with THE most expressive of faces. 

Nothing is hidden amongst my fine lines and acne scars. Which is a major problem when playing poker. Or in court… 
As fast as he was taken down (literally, they took him down the stairs in the dock!) and the barristers switched over it was time for another. In walked the next one. Up to the dock he went. And another after him. 
It occurred to me that I wouldn’t be hard pressed to find a story in these parts.  
I saw a jury sworn in. They looked just like the jury from broadchurch. How realistic I thought!

***

The school playground that afternoon felt like willy wonker’s chocolate factory by comparison. 
Fluffy marsh mellows floated past as innocent giggles wafted by. 
And then the toddler daughter started to demand a third snack whilst we waited in the drizzle, and cried when I couldn’t produce a rabbit out of a hat. My school daughter cried becasue it was ballet day for toddler daughter. Toddler daughter didn’t want to go to ballet either.
 I put on my best judge voice, and marched them up the road – still in my funeral coat. 
I went back for more the following day. .


“Did you eat popcorn there Muma?”

“No darling, I barely breathed”