Enjoy life more

We’re a nation of resolution makers – they tell me 80 per cent of us say we have vowed to change the way we conduct our professional and personal lives at a new year but more than half of us fail to keep our pledges.

And it gets terribly repetitive: we keep making the same promises and breaking them every year. However well-intentioned you may be, your New Year resolutions have little chance of being fulfilled unless you set clear goals and focus on the rewards.

Think through exactly what you will do, where you will do it, and at what time. Vague plans fail.

For example, instead of saying that you will go running two days a week, tell yourself that you will run on Tuesday and Thursdays at 6pm.

The most popular resolution, apparently, falls into the vague category. It is to enjoy life more.

Don’t forget the vitamin D

Our vitamin D levels will plummet this winter.

Vitamin D is a pro-hormone which our bodies naturally produce by synthesising ultraviolet light from the sun. It is needed for the body to make proper use of calcium for stronger bones and teeth and maintain a healthy immune system.

Ninety per cent of our essential vitamin D must come from our skin’s unprotected exposure to the sun, with only 10 per cent gained through diet. But the UK is currently in its vitamin D winter where winter sunshine is too weak to stimulate production of vitamin D.

When the sun is below 45 degrees in the sky, nearly all of the UVB it produces is absorbed by the atmosphere, rather than our bodies. So in the UK, the angle of our winter sun is simply not strong enough to ensure sufficient vitamin D production at the levels we need.

And even when the strength and angle of the sun is good enough for optimum vitamin D generation in our bodies, our nation’s infamous cloudy weather often blocks it out completely, hindering the absorption of those all important UVB rays. Therefore only a very few people are likely to generate enough vitamin D through natural sunlight exposure alone.

Diseases related to vitamin D deficiency, including multiple sclerosis, Type 2 diabetes, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and a growing number of internal cancers are believed to cost the UK taxpayer £29 billion annually – more than a quarter of the NHS budget.

More commonly, general symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency include lack of energy and fatigue, headaches, poor immune system, muscle aches and depression.

So get out there and get yourself some supplementation advice. Vitamin D home test kits retail at £25.

Print isn’t dead

How does news publishing change when a newspaper sells fewer than 300,000 copies but its website attracts 31 million visitors? These shifts are forcing assumptions and practices to be rethought from first principles.

The internet is not simply allowing faster, wider distribution of material: digital technology is demanding transformative change. Journalism needs to be rethought globally and remade to meet the demands of new conditions.

George Brock’s new book Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age examines the past, present and future for a fragile industry battling a perfect storm of falling circulations, reduced advertising revenue, rising print costs and the impact of citizen journalists and free news aggregators.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, Brock argues that journalism can flourish in a new communications age:

·      Journalism’s history shows that reporting the news is always being disrupted. The late 20th century was unusual for being a period when news was profitable and its institutions stable. Journalism has always had to adapt, experiment, improvise and renegotiate.

·      Only some journalism is under threat, particularly regional journalism. Many printed newspapers will survive, though in the UK there is currently over-supply in all national categories (mass market, mid-market, high end).

·      Print was in trouble before the internet came along. The peak year for daily and Sunday national paper circulation in Britain was 1955. What is falling apart is the industrial structure of the news business – and the ideas which went with it. The time when big news media dominated is over for print, broadcast and, even, online.

·      What the internet does to news is reroute information, measure who consumes what and rewrite the business model. It does not abolish peoples’ need to know or the need to navigate (huge) information flows – the importance of journalistic selection, navigation, curation and comment remains.

·      Unseen by many established journalists, a new generation of editors, writers and publishers are taking journalism’s values and trying to make them work in new contexts. The future of journalism depends on the quality of their experiments and failures to reboot journalism.

·      Online communications bring the industrial phase of news media to an end, returning it – via social networks – to something which looks more like the news publishing of an earlier era.

·      Online news platforms may not yet rival the institutions of mainstream media, but a few have moved past the phase of being fragile startups. Their agility (and lower cost base) will give them an advantage over time.

·      If the journalists of tomorrow want to understand what happened and what will happen, they need to understand both what’s happening to journalism and to the business of news.

Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age
George Brock
Kogan Page (Paperback, £19.99, 256 pages)
Published in the UK on 3 September

Sport in schools rant

Predictably, the politicians, Uncle Tom Cobley and all are jumping all over it.

The decision by the Coalition Government not to require schools to provide two hours of physical education every week will destroy any possibility of Britain’s businesses feeding from the feel-good factor created by our Olympic success, warns Will Davies – co-founder of London property maintenance and refurbishment company, aspect.co.uk.

You’ve probably never heard of the guy, or his organisation, but he has a point (perhaps reinforced because he used to be a rugger player, as was I briefly before seeing sense and taking up a rowing career). Unsurprisingly, he says:

“The boost our economy could have received from the energy created by Britain’s astonishing successes in the Olympics will all be washed away by this political blunder. In my experience, the leaders on the sports field often become the leaders in the workplace, and the sorts of young people who commit themselves to excelling in sport are also the individuals who work hard to make a success of the working lives.”

He’s right there. Even under the previous government all children were required to take part in two hours of sport every week and there was an outline plan to increase that requirement to five hours every week. Blair started it off in fact.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said, perhaps somewhat naively if you give them the benefit of the doubt:

“Instead of handing down target and quotas from Whitehall, we have chosen to trust teachers and parents when it comes to deciding how much sport pupils should do.”

What tosh. You can just hear them smirking as they say it. But the Youth Sport Trust criticised the decision saying:

“Measuring the number of young people participating in two hours of school sport did give a clear indication of participation levels in sport in schools across the country. There is still some great work going on in schools but it is now more difficult to know exactly where provision is good and where it needs to be improved.”

Figures obtained by the Guardian through a freedom of information request also demonstrate embarrassingly that 21 school playing fields have been sold off since the Coalition Government came to power. Adds Davies:

“Selling sports fields and replacing competitive sports with yoga and circus skills will not build on our Olympic legacy. Working hard to become competitive at sport instills passion, teamwork and dedication in our youngsters. All of which are attributes that will help them be successful in their working lives.”

Cue National Anthem.

The secret of blonde hair

Researchers studying pigmentation in the South Pacific have uncovered a key genetic contribution to hair colour.

The findings, published in Science, reveal a functional genetic variant which has led the islanders to have simultaneously the darkest skin pigmentation outside of Africa and the highest prevalence of blonde hair outside of Europe.

Blond Solomon Islander (c. Sean Myles)

Human skin and hair colour varies considerably both within and among populations. Previous studies have shown that pigmentation is largely heritable but also suggest it has evolved to adapt to the sun’s ultraviolet rays — with populations near the equator possessing darker skin and hair colour.

However, the Melanesian population of the Solomon Islands, East of Papua New Guinea, differs from this trend.

The research – co-led by Dr Nic Timpson from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology at the University of Bristol and researchers at Stanford University in the US – sought to find out what has caused these islanders to possess such discordant patterns of pigmentation, some of the greatest in the world.

The team took samples from a pool of Melanesian participants, 43 with blonde hair and 42 with dark hair, and carried out genetic analysis to compare their genomes. The results showed that the across the whole genome, one key gene region contained the variation responsible for differences in the cells that produce darkening pigmentation, or melanocytes.

Naturally blonde hair is a surprisingly unusual trait in humans which is typically associated with people from Scandinavian and Northern European countries. The team’s findings help explain the fascinating differences in these physical characteristics, but also underline the importance of genetic mapping using isolated populations to help shed new light on the epidemiology of disease.

Was Fergie right to demand payment?

Richard Hillgrove thinks Sarah Ferguson was justified in demanding money in return for an introduction to her ex-husband. Controversial? Maybe. But then again there’s nothing like a spot of opportunism to promote your PR company is there?

Hillgrove (left) is former PR to Dragon’s Den star James Caan

The News of the World filmed the Duchess allegedly making arrangements for the money to be paid into her bank account by a reporter who was posing as a businessman. The newspaper also claimed that it knew of two businessmen who had been introduced to Fergie’s former hubbie – the Duke of York and the UK’s Special Representative for Trade and Investment – by the Duchess herself.

But, according to Hillgrove – Managing Director of Hillgrove PR:

“Money changes hands so that businesses can gain access to influential people every day of the week. It is a vital part of business: there is nothing unusual about what the Duchess of York did. Facilitating a business introduction is legitimate work and if she has been approached the Duchess is correct to expect payment if she makes it happen.”

What do you think?

Council Tax set to rise – or not…

A proposed Council Tax-evaluation policy is reassessing current house values. Councils are set to penalise those who live in nice areas and offer discounts to those who live in rough ones.

This should be good news for all those decent, long-suffering types who live near Windsor Castle. The extended family that lives inside the WC is run by a grumpy old woman with a pack of irritable dogs allowed to run without leads. Her car isn’t taxed or insured. It doesn’t even have a number plate, yet the police still do nothing.

To the best of my knowledge, this woman has never worked. Her bad-tempered old man is well-known for making racist comments.  A shopkeeper blamed him for arranging the murder of his son and his son’s girlfriend, but nothing has been proved.

All their kids have broken marriages except the youngest, who everyone thought was gay. Two grandsons are meant to be in the Army but they are always out partying in nightclubs. It is not known if they have the same father. In my opinion, they are out of control.

Values – then and now

Have been reading extracts from David Kynaston’s ‘Family Britain 1951-57’ (published by Bloomsbury). Perhaps my children should read it.

For years I’ve been painting a picture of a long-gone era of respect, Spitfire kits and dolly mixtures. But no-one believed it to be true. Now Mr Kynaston has come to the rescue. It’s a bit ‘Just William’:

“We played in the street with our friends and were safe; we climbed trees, skinned our knees and ripped our clothes, got into fights and nobody sued anybody. Sweets were a treat, not part of lunch. We got a clip round the ear when we had been naughty, and Mum gave us a teaspoon of malt and cod liver oil before school.”

As well as the reference to sweets, I particularly liked:

“We were allowed to answer the phone on our birthday as a special treat.”

In fact, I guffawed at that one. Imagine today’s little darlings doing without their mobiles. What Kynaston identified were wartime values which were still very strong, even in the 1960s. As were respectability and trust.

Contrast this with The Sunday Telegraph’s excellent leader of 8 November which shows how far we’ve sunk. It lays the sacrifices of both World Wars against the behaviour of today’s politicians, and the public’s belief in the integrity of the political process which has been greatly damaged by this Government:

“The contempt for ordinary voters, and so for democracy itself, shown by the failure to call a referendum has many to doubt whether the present Government can be trusted with any important decision at all.

“The scandal over MPs’ expenses has had a similar effect, for it has created the impression that whatever they say about their devotion to ‘public service’, MPs’ highest priority is actually their own private gain. While the party leaders have insisted that all of Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposed reforms to the system of allowances and expenses must be adopted, the reluctance of MPs themselves to embrace those reforms has reinforced that pernicious impression.

“This is extremely dangerous, for it strikes at the heart of the trust that we, as people, must have in our representatives if our system of government is to work.

“If we come to believe that our MPs are working not for us but for themselves then we cannot trust them to choose what is best for the country.

“As the trust on which our democratic system depends continues to evaporate, that democracy becomes ever harder to sustain. And if it falters, the sacrifices made to preserve it in the wars of the last century will have been in vain. On Remembrance Sunday, that is certainly something sobering to remember.”

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