Monday, 23 September 2013

24 hours, two seaside towns... one dress (and a near, near death experience!)



It started with a dress...

19 September 2013 - 18:15 – 00:09
Worlds Collide
Presenting the award at the Be Inspired Business Awards (BIBAs)  is an honour I have enjoyed for each of the past three years; the company I work with (Orbit Internet), is a Sponsor and so we get to both judge a category and take a table for 10 (though this year stretched to an enjoyable 13) for what is the closest thing to the Oscars you can imagine. Blackpool Tower in all its genuinely stunning, Victorian glory – its ballroom bedecked in gold and light, dark and bright beauteous spaces, welcoming the hard working, talented, creative and enduring people who power the businesses of Lancashire.

Categories that honour Best New Business, Small Business of the Year, Importer of the Year, Exporter of the Year, Most Creative, e-Business of the Year (our category), Lancastrian of the Year and more; it’s a wonderful occasion. These awards surprised and delighted me when I first became involved; I was concerned that it might be a lot of ‘who you know’ rather than how genuinely worthy you were – I was (happily) completely wrong. From nomination to final is an arduous journey and those who make it, deserve the acknowledgement.

I walked on stage to deliver the award to the winning e-Business and was greeted by a very amicable Eamonn Holmes. All sorts of lovely stuff preceded and followed this, including Matt Cardle singing ‘When we Collide’. This turned out to be virtually prophetic as I rounded the bar area to find myself smack bang in the middle of a gathering of people who work for and with shale gas company Cuadrilla and their notorious PR agency PPS. My work life and activist life rarely have overlap – and this was very surreal. (I am active with Residents Action on Fylde Fracking and am very, very opposed to the shale gas industry’s attempts to impact our region or anywhere).

“What are you doing here?” is what one of the PR guys asked in a none-too-friendly tone, tinged with discomfort. “I’m a judge.” I said. At this point I noticed the look on all 10 (or so) faces – maybe they were thinking I’d infiltrated and was planning to lock-on to someone or something in some glamorous act of protest? It had crossed my mind when I saw the table plans a few weeks ago and realised we’d be on opposing balconies  – but there was never going to be any risk I’d do anything at this event. I love the process of this, from the judging to the big night,  where people I respect are celebrating surviving or thriving another year in a tough economy - this is THEIR night and rightly so. Looking out at it all - I thought how this gorgeous setting was in fact a huge part of the engine room of Lancashire.

I was angered though to find this awful company attempting to infiltrate and impact on our world; I know they lie (ASA confirms this with a ruling that means no-one can sue me for saying that), I know they do not stick to the rules of planning and I know they hire others to try to sway the community to their way of thinking; not by disclosing honestly, what the impact of their industry will be on Lancashire (and the rest of the country as air and water respect no county boundaries) but by using propaganda techniques and bribery (although they call it sponsorship or community contributions).

As I watched in awe at the brilliance of this room and the many people I respect who were in it – I glanced across to the opposite balcony and hoped that this was the last time I would have to see them trying to ‘do business’ here. 




20 September 2013 - 00:16 – 00:17
That Isadora Duncan Moment
We’d left promptly as my (too rarely told how much I admire her) sister Julie, insisted I get off the dance floor and into a cab as we had too little time for sleep before the 6:18 train from Blackpool. I reluctantly dragged myself from the fun I was having, got into the cab and we set off. We’d gone perhaps a couple of metres when two things happened seemingly simultaneously – my ribs contracted and a man threw himself at my passenger window. The cab stopped and I breathed to re-inflate my ribs that had been crushed by the contracting bodice of my dress - this the result of the ribbon being caught in the wheel of the cab. Every one of the loops on one side (where the ribbon threaded} was torn but that was thankfully the worst of the outcomes.


20 September 2013 - 00:18-00:30
Revelations
My waist hurts, I’m a bit chilly (dress barely on) but relieved I have a wrap for dignity and I’m thinking about this thing called ‘activism’ that seems like it has to be a whispered subject when I go about my actual job (writing and helping businesses to more effectively use social media). Sure I bring it up with people I work closely with or see regularly and the media coverage of the anti-fracking movement ensures that most people know I have this ‘other life’ where I sometimes sleep in a tent and hold a banner ...but it is still a definitely separate thing.

Sometimes the contrasts catch me by surprise as I never really think of work and activism in the same breath... but tonight I sensed the overlap and the reason it should; it isn’t just the rigs, threats, harms and pollutants I want to keep out – I don’t want these bad-business people doing business here. I don’t think they suit Lancashire (or anywhere that decent people exist).   The communities I move in, in business and activism are amongst the most important parts of my life and I genuinely enjoy, respect and care for the people I am fortunate enough to spend time with... they should not have Cuadrilla, iGas or any of the others in their lives.

20 September 2013 - 00:30-05:00
Sleep
Although room a bit spinny as I am useless at drinking - yet gave it a bit of a go this evening.

20 September 2013 - 05:00-05:55
Dress & Pack Dress (+ needle & thread)
Jeans and a sweater on, gorgeous gown in a bag and repair materials packed we head off to the train

20 September 2013 - 05:55-11:03
Trains From B to B
Blackpool to Brighton passed with a lot of sewing to get each loop threaded back into the bodice so I could again wear the dress for what promised to be a fun  act of protest called ‘Frocking not Fracking’. Friends of the Earth had arranged an action to coincide with Women’s Day at the Labour Party Conference and wanted it to focus on Women Vote NO to Fracking.... there are a lot of powerful female voices in this movement and it was a great idea to pull some together. In the final 15 minutes of the journey a quick change in the loo led to perplexed expressions in the train carriage – populated mainly by Bolton football supporters.

20 September 2013 - 11:03-18:15
Honk To Support!
Music, singing, gorgeous others and a real sense of fun made the day an absolute pleasure. We women gathered outside the Hilton where most of the Labour Party meetings for Women’s Day were happening – one of our signs asked passing drivers to ‘Honk for Support!’ and so very many did. A policeman tried to say we should move back away from the edge of the pavement (where drivers were honking support) – but most of us are ‘veterans’ of the Balcombe CommunityProtection Camp in West Sussex, where for over 7 weeks, protectors have slept at the roadsides in tents and got up each weekday to slow the onslaught of trucks (swathed in police) and delay this industry as best we can... till enough people are informed and sanity prevails – so we really had no intention of doing what we were told on this gentle day, without a fine legal reason. 

The Hilton itself was rather kind as we went in to sit for coffee – unlike most protests, we were beautifully over-dressed and they couldn’t seem to find a reason to ask us to leave and told us we were the nicest protesters they had met. Many excellent conversations with Councillors and others were had, thanks to the keen eye of Helen of Friends of the Earth – she can spot a key person miles off and is so well-informed.  Plans were made, networks hugely expanded and resources shared.



Finale... Day done, dress off, jeans on and a ludicrously long journey home to discover the joy of remaining horizontal for a full 12 hours.