Vote Teenager!

Posted in Uncategorized by Kevan Blackadder on April 24, 2010

I’ve realised this week that I’ve become a pompous old git.
Not only did I go into the election campaign thinking that voter apathy would rule, but that first-time voters wouldn’t even bother getting out of bed. And, even for first-time voters, getting out of bed before the polling stations close at 10pm shouldn’t be too arduous.
Until “CleggMania” kicked in, it was a dull campaign. But, thanks to the Lib Dem leader’s sparkling performance in the first of the two televised debates so far, so many more people seem to become engaged.
My concern for young voters was whether they could even understand the differences between the three main parties.
When I were a lad, you knew there was a clear difference between Red and Blue. There was probably a Yellow as well; but if they’re active in West Cumbria now, they certainly weren’t back then. Without embarrassing myself by confessing the date of the first election in which I was eligible to vote, the PM at the time was some bloke called Wilson and – presumably partly thanks to my generation – he was replaced by some woman called Thatcher. I’ve voted in a further SIX general elections since then.
Now though, with three men in suits squabbling over the best way to save money rather than spend it, how on earth could we expect teenagers to be remotely interested?
Well, after chairing two Gloucestershire candidate debates – one in Cheltenham and one in Tewkesbury – I’m hanging my head in shame.
Far from a lack of interest, the first-time voters fired wide-ranging questions at potential MPs who were clearly as surprised as I was at some of the questions.
In Cheltenham, pupils wanted to know why there was any need for ID cards, should the number of MPs be cut to save money, should the voting age be lowered to 16, should we have women-only shortlists and – a question I’d never heard asked at a hustings before – why can’t prisoners vote?
The debate even ended with one Cheltenham Ladies College pupil demanding that the House of Lords shouldn’t become a fully-elected body. I managed to keep a straight face afterwards when someone suggested that she was only trying to keep her dad in a job.
On to Tewkesbury, where students demanded to know how people could possibly understand the proposed changes to the voting system, how the candidates would increase the turnout and how more services could be returned to Tewkesbury Hospital.
All these bright, engaged youngsters were 17 and 18-year-olds. Disinterested? They put the rest of us to shame.

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We’ll miss you Kian

Posted in Uncategorized by Kevan Blackadder on April 19, 2010

We’re a tough lot, us journalists.
Through the stories we deal with day in, day out, we become hardened to events that many “normal people” would struggle to cope with. We’re often accused of being cynical old hacks. And, secretly, we’re quite proud of that.
But last week, a deafening silence descended on the Gloucestershire Echo’s newsroom.
We were told that three-year-old Kian Baker had died. I don’t mind saying that the odd tear was shed.
We ran our first story about the toddler from Cheltenham back in March 2009. Kian had been diagnosed with PNP deficiency – a rare genetic disorder which left him vulnerable to infections.
He needed a bone marrow transplant to survive and – after the Echo led an appeal to find a match – a donor was found. Sadly, Kian’s body never accepted the new cells and after nine months at Great Ormond Street Hospital, doctors said there was no more they could do for him.
He returned home to have several happy days with parents Gemma and Steve before passing away at the Acorns Children’s Centre.
We ran more than 40 stories on Kian. Some called for donors, others described fund-raising events and others kept our readers up-dated on his progress. It was heart-breaking for our team to produce the front page story in the Echo headlined “Brave Kian dies after long battle”.
Throughout, Gemma and Steve have been remarkably strong. They have always been happy to talk to our reporters because they have appreciated that our readers wanted to be kept informed about how their little hero was doing.
It’s terribly sad that he wasn’t able to win his battle for life.
But everyone who has followed his story so keenly had another chance to help raise money in his name.
A fund-raising event called JazzAid was held at Cheltenham Cricket Club. It became a celebration of Kian’s life.
And organisers say the event will raise £4,000 for causes chosen by Kian’s family.
Everybody there was saying a special goodbye to Kian.

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Maggots on the march

Posted in Uncategorized by Kevan Blackadder on April 12, 2010

The days and weeks I’ve been dreading have finally arrived.

Ever since I spotted the two dark green plastic containers on my doorstep, I knew it was inevitable.

If only people followed some simple rules it could be avoided. But they won’t.

It’s time for – “Attack of the Killer Maggots Part II”.

Tewkesbury Borough Council has added food waste recycling to its rubbish collections. My staff don’t realise it yet but they are about to receive dozens of phone calls about maggots.

“They’ve taken over the garden!” “They’ve taken over the kitchen!” “They’ve taken over little Sophie’s bedroom!”

Not only will people want to tell us about the maggots. They’ll want us to take pictures of them. And they’ll expect us to put them in the Echo.

I should know. I lived through “Attack of the Killer Maggots Part I”. I was living in Bristol at the time the city council delivered its food waste bins for the first time with instructions on how to wrap up leftovers safely and securely. “Yuk!” said my wife. “That’s your job!” I couldn’t really argue – I realised I hadn’t got any others.

And it really was quite straightforward. Whether it was the odd unwanted vegetable or the remains of a particularly hot curry, I simply put it in newspaper, wrapped it up tightly and put it in the kitchen caddy. Then a couple of times a week, I transferred the bundles to the outside bin and the council took it away every Friday.

Not only was it a very easy job; I was helping to save the environment!

And then the phones started ringing. “Aaargh!” “It’s a disgrace!” “I can’t see the lawn anymore – they’re everywhere!”

All the callers had one thing in common. They were either scraping their spare chips straight into the caddy or they weren’t wrapping the food up properly. They denied it of course. And we had some fantastic pictures of maggots. If you like that kind of thing.

Tewkesbury Borough has even gone as far as giving us some free paper bags to put the food waste in. Great idea. And far too sensible for Bristol City Council to have thought of.

So come on, people of Tewkesbury, prove me wrong. Let’s wrap smart. Let’s not have any maggot scare stories.

And for everyone who lives in the area, there’s a really easy way to make sure you can make this work when the paper bags run out. Buy the Gloucestershire Echo every day and you’ll always have the material you need. And you won’t have any maggots.