Over 30? Don’t bother applying for this job…

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.46.03 AMI saw this job ad recently for an online group that caters for seniors—that is, people aged 60 and older. The ad made it very clear that no one from the demographic for which they cater need apply: the successful candidate, it said, would be a social media ‘native’, but would have ‘A love for the not-quite older generations’.

It reminded me of a conversation a TV sitcom family might have about how to deal with an elderly relative at a celebration: ‘Just sit dear old grandad in the corner with a party-hat on; he won’t know the difference’.

There are so many things that are wrong with this ad. Don’t even get me started on the grammar—but that’s for a different post.

Firstly, it’s illegal in Australia to discriminate against job-seekers on the basis of age. Of course, actual selection of candidates based on age goes on all the time, albeit surreptitiously. But you’re definitely not allowed to advertise a job of this nature and specify age. By saying they are looking for a digital ‘native’, the company is specifying it wants someone younger than around 30. Actually, by specifying ‘social media’ native, they’re probably meaning someone in their very early 20s.

There is one positive aspect to age-discriminatory advertising: it means people who are 30+ will know not to bother applying for this job. Otherwise, as this company caters specifically for ‘older’ people, it could expect to get quite a number of mature-age applicants, believing that perhaps such a company would appreciate that digital ability is not about age but technological dexterity.

For a site that advertises itself as championing people remaining active in their 60s, this is poor form and a proof that they don’t really believe in their audience. They could sure do with someone who is a good editor, by the way: I took a look at their website and the stories were full of grammatical and typographical errors in every paragraph (as their ad was).

There seems to be a general belief, particularly among the young themselves, that you can only be really good at using new technology if you were brought up with it. Imagine if we applied that to other fields.

For example, P.D. James, who died in 2014 aged 94, started writing in her mid-30s, but didn’t work full-time as a writer until she retired from the civil service in the UK when she was 60. She was born in 1920, before radio and TV broadcasting started. In 2009, aged 89, she was a guest-editor at BBC Radio 4 in the UK, and she interviewed the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson. She was so good, the show’s host, Evan Davis, said she should have a permanent job on the show.

The late Steve Jobs was 50 when he released the first iPhone. Did anyone try to tell him he was too old to be doing such things, and that because he wasn’t a ‘digital native’, he wouldn’t be any good at them? Using the above company’s mentality, if Jobs had applied for his own job, he wouldn’t have got it, purely on the basis of age.

Here’s something else to think about when you advertise that a job will go to a digital native: more than half the people in the world still do not have access to the internet. Australia has immigrants from many different countries, including young adults who came from countries in which they were not brought up with digital technology. Should they be precluded from applying for jobs that require use of technology, because they were not exposed to it as children?

As I often say to young people, ‘Your age group only uses this new technology, but my age group and several before it actually invented it’. (I did not make up this sentiment—I read it somewhere and appropriated it). Many young people I know are quite good at using social media. But not all. Some tell me they don’t particularly like it, and many admit they’re not that knowledgeable about it, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar app or medium.

It is true that demographics show that a greater percentage of younger people than older people use new technology, particularly social media. But that doesn’t mean older people can’t use technology. And just because some can’t or won’t use it, doesn’t mean all of them lack these skills. You shouldn’t be precluded from a job because of what someone else can’t do.

I know also that many mature adults would like to use more social media, but most social media use is recreational: it’s about play, entertainment and fun. And unfortunately, most adults are time-poor, particularly those who are middle-aged or older. They might have a 10-hour+ work day including a commute, have to care for children and perhaps elderly parents as well, have to pay a mortgage and provide a living for themselves and their dependents. Finding time to play on social media is increasingly difficult.
Ironically though, the fastest-growing group of new gamers in Australia is the over-50s, according to Digital Australia 2016, and 49% of Australians in this age group play computer or video games.

On the other hand, young people can also be discriminated against because of their age. When I was just 22, I became the assistant editor of a big rural newspaper where I had been working as a reporter. The editor had been promoted to a higher managerial position, and another older reporter was promoted to editor, even though I’d been effectively doing the job for the last six months. The owner said he would have liked to have made me editor, and he knew I could do the job: the only reason I was made assistant editor instead was that I was too young. People would not accept someone my age as editor, he said.

I am very much against ‘youth rates’ that Australia and some other countries have, too, unless a young person is unable to do the same job as an adult-rate person. I think it’s exploitative.

My point is this: if you are an employer in the field of communications, try not to have pre-conceived notions of who might or might not be able to do the job you are advertising. Choose the person who is right for the job as if you could not see them: not by age, looks or other incidentals. Choose by aptitude, enthusiasm, and the ability to relate to the audience you are aiming to reach.

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Look what I made! Look what I made!

Nano-flamingoI’ve been flat-out busy this year with work, and in the last few months, I haven’t even been able to write any blog posts. Things are much easier now though, so I hope to write plenty of posts over the next two months.
During that very busy time, I discovered a new hobby: building miniature construction projects.
I like to go for a quick walk in the afternoon to clear my head, especially when I’m overrun with work. There is an old-fashioned toy shop at my local shops, about five minutes’ walk from where I live. In it I discovered these intriguing little packages, each containing 100-150 or more tiny blocks and promising after construction to result in the cutest figures, each one of which can fit comfortably into the palm of my hand.
Nanoblock is a Japanese ‘micro-sized building block’ that has a cult following around the world. Blocks may be as small as 4x4x5mm. You need a steady hand for this work!

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they're logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they’re logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

I started with the ‘greater flamingo’, because pink flamingos make me smile and remind me of Las Vegas.
But when I opened the packet, I was taken aback: the instruction sheet looked incomprehensible with its cryptic diagrams and only the occasional word. “I’ll never be able to figure this out,” I thought.
However, I stared and stared at the sheet, and suddenly, it started to make sense. I got it. The instructions are actually amazingly precise, once you’re on their wave length. And not only is there enough of each type of brick, they give you extras.

I’ve gone on to make a piano and a great white shark. I’m going to do more!

Nano-piano Nano-shark
Because I work constantly with words, I need to get those words out of my head to give myself a break. Micro-block building is like therapy—a relaxation technique for the busy mind, and the same reason I took up art. I can set up everything I need for the miniature building project—blocks, base and instructions—on a sheet of A4 paper on my dining table.

And my next project? It’s going to be a koala or the Sydney Opera House, I think.

The secret of everlasting youth

Image from allfancydress.com UK

Image from allfancydress.com UK

I was travelling one recent morning on the shuttle bus that takes me from the train station to the university where I work. I was standing, because the bus is always packed and I rarely get a seat.

“Right, that’s it, you others will have to wait for the next bus!” the driver said to the long queue of students still waiting to board.

Off we went, maybe 40 students, all of them young, and two staff members, including me.

Incongruously, the driver was playing an ABBA hit from the 1970s, Dancing Queen, on the sound system. Some of these kids’ parents wouldn’t even be old enough to remember this in its own time, I thought wryly.

That song brought back memories, to when I was in my mid-teens, had my first after-school job and believed that every day had the potential for something exciting to happen. As I was often told by older family members, I had my whole life ahead of me.

Meanwhile, back to the future, on the bus in 2015, it suddenly occurred to me that that was the difference between being young and thinking old: hope and expectation.

I haven’t stopped hoping for exciting things to happen, and I know they still can and will. But when I was young, I not only hoped they would happen, I expected them to. If I went for a job, I expected to get it, and I usually did, for example.

These days, when I apply for a job, though eminently qualified, I know not to get my hopes up. Even the ones I think I have in the bag…I don’t, usually! Quashed expectations abound, until it seems futile to have any.

Health-wise, I have led rather a charmed existence, so far. I’ve never had a serious illness, I’ve never broken a bone, never cut myself so badly I needed stitches. The worst illness I’ve had in recent decades was a bad back for a few weeks in 2008, which had no lasting implications. I’m robust and spring back from most things.

Nothing hurts except my feet after I’ve been on them all day, while most of my friends in their 40s and older complain of any number of aches and pains.

Most of all, I’ve never suffered from mental illness. I feel down some days, but I’ve never been clinically depressed. I feel anxious often and have certain trigger points but never to the point of becoming a serious problem. This is a major stroke of good luck, as so many people I know have been affected by mental illness.

Through most of my life I’ve woken up with what I refer to as the “bubble of happiness”. It’s a new day and anything can happen!

Mostly this year, for me, the only thing that happens is work, though. I’ve been putting all my energies into my job, then wishing I had time for play as well. I paint and sew and read, but I’ve let the first two go because I always have so much work to do. Not to mention writing that next novel, which I believe is my real work, but for which I need to make a new plan and squeeze the time from somewhere.

I know that on my death bed, I will never say, “I wish I’d taught more classes and written more lectures”. But I might say, “I wish I’d seen my friends more often, painted more pictures, written another novel.”

I see so many older people around me who have so obviously lost the hopes and expectations of youth – for good reason, usually. Life throws us a few too many challenges from time to time.

Yet, we all need to rise up with those bubbles of happiness once more and think like a young person again: exciting things not only can happen, they WILL happen!

Anti-Ageing Breakthrough’s [sic]

Today’s headline, Anti-Ageing Breakthrough’s,  comes from a subject line on an email I received this week from a major online cosmetics company. It annoyed me so much, I had to write a blog post about it.

Given their subject line, I wasn’t surprised when I read in the body of the email that their products could help “restore your skin to it’s [sic] most youthful state”.

As I’ve often repeated, a relative 20 years my junior retorted when asked why well educated professional people made so many basic grammatical errors these days, “What’s the problem? We know what we mean”.

It’s true. I do know what that cosmetic company’s subject line means. But I’d love to know the rationale behind putting an apostrophe in such a straightforward plural. On this topic, I once queried a student of mine, who did excellent work but who always used apostrophes with simple plural’s (like that). When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know and that he’d never thought about it. Another teenager told me they were taught at school to put apostrophes “with s words”.

Could this be true? It can be the only answer.

I can understand some confusion about its and it’s: the possessive version is an exception to the usual in NOT taking an apostrophe, though it’s easily explained  (use it’s only when you mean “it is” or “it has”). I can understand the coffee-shop blackboard error, cappuccino’s $4, it being a ‘foreign’ word and all (the plural is cappuccini if you want to be strictly correct, but it has become anglicised in Australia to cappuccinos). I can even understand another one I saw recently, holiday’s (the writer knows that words ending in –y often become –ies in plural, but holidaies is clearly impossible, so the writer has become confused).

There’s the old joke about the grocer’s apostrophe, depicted so well in the illustration on this page (thanks to Juliet Fay for allowing me to use her cartoon, and you can read her excellent blog post on such apostrophes here).

But breakthrough’s?

While we all make errors in our writing and informal correspondence, through haste, a casual approach, or the fact that our work isn’t edited by anyone else, I’d expect professional companies to be just that. To me, it looks unprofessional when I see grammatical errors in publicly released advertising or editorial material, and I wonder in what other ways the company is unprofessional. Get a good sub-editor, or just someone who knows basic grammar, to check the work of your copywriter, companies!

Or am I asking too much? Does it even matter?

Where has the time gone?

TimeDear February: who are you, and what have you done with my friend January, who has suddenly disappeared, seemingly without warning?
Which is just another way of saying, Where has the time gone?
Remember when you were a kid and the summer school break seemed to go on and on and on? In New Zealand, ours coincided with Christmas and, two weeks later, my birthday.
I remember endless days of playing outside with the neighbourhood kids, rolling down the sloping grass lawn in my grandparents’ garden, travelling by car with my parents to Palmerston North, via a day fishing at Lake Taupo, to see my great-grandparents and loads of great-aunts, great-uncles and second cousins.
This summer break stretched almost to infinity, so that when it was, finally, time to go back to school, I was ready and willing.
Now, time speeds by so quickly, there is no such thing as an endless holiday. Even three or four weeks off goes like wildfire, and in a flash, it’s time to start work again.
This disparity is probably in part because as adults, we have so much more responsibility. The annual clean-out, biannual dentist visit, tax return that should have gone in months ago but there was no time… We leave it all to this mystical period when we, seemingly, will “have the time”. We don’t, of course, and in the blink of an eye, it’s gone.
Add to that the complication that when I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so I’m always short on cash during this time, trying to eke out the last of my pay and looking forward to that regular fortnightly input again.
In addition, leisure time flying by is about attitude. When I’m on holiday (vacation) now, I seem to spend the whole time counting the days, saying, “Oh no, only three weeks and four days to go…oh no, only three weeks and three days to go…how will I ever get everything done? I haven’t even started to write that new novel yet!”
In comparison, when I was a child, every day was what it was: up at sunrise, enjoying the time for itself, not even thinking about the next day, because there was so much of this one ahead, never worrying about where the time went, how little was left of the holidays. We took each day as it came.
Perhaps that is the way adults should live, too, at least during breaks from work.

Trick question: What is Coca-Cola?

'Dear Mr Job Thank you for applying to be a burger flipper at our restaurant chain. The standard of applicants was very high and, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful at this time. However, we will keep your details on file and contact you should a suitable position arise.'

‘Dear Mr Job
Thank you for applying to be a burger flipper at our restaurant chain. The standard of applicants was very high and, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful at this time. However, we will keep your details on file and contact you should a suitable position arise.’

You know when you go to a job interview, and the interviewer asks you a seemingly simple question, but it turns out the correct answer is not the obvious one?

I read such a story on one of my favourite news websites, RocketNews24, the other day that inspired this blog post.

The story was about an applicant for a job at McDonald’s. During the interview, the teenager was asked, ‘What kind of place do you think McDonald’s is?’.

He answered, ‘It’s a place where people eat hamburgers’.

He knew he’d made a major error when the interviewer looked at him witheringly and replied, ‘It’s a place where people are raised’.

The interview was over and, needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

Now, knowing how tough it is out there to get a job these days, I thought I’d help out by doing some research and providing the right answers to similar questions should you find yourself applying at one of the following top companies.

I’ve taken the answers for these hypothetical interviewers’ questions from advertising, blurbs and mission statements on the companies’ own websites. Good luck with your search!

Interview at Coca-Cola Amatil

Interviewer: What is Coca-Cola?

Applicant: A high-sugar fizzy drink or an artificially sweetened fizzy drink, depending on which type you buy.

Interviewer: No! At Coca-Cola, we’re in the business of spreading smiles and opening happiness every day all across the world.

 

Interview at PepsiCo

Interviewer: What is Gatorade?

Applicant: A high-sugar energy-boosting drink.

Interviewer: NO! It fuels the best and the best of the future. It is a product that will help you work harder, for longer; scientifically proven since 1965.

 

Interview at Google Inc

Interviewer: What is Google?

Applicant: A search engine.

Interviewer: No! Google is a company that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.

 

Interview at Cadbury Ltd

Interviewer: What is Cadbury?

Applicant: A brand of chocolate, most famously dairy milk chocolate.

Interviewer: No! chocolate means different things to different people at different times, but most importantly, Chocolate is Cadbury, with a passionate commitment to making everyone feel happy.

 

Interview at Yum! Brands Inc

Interviewer: What is KFC?

Applicant: A place where people go to eat fried chicken.

Interviewer: Most definitely not! It’s a place that knows its responsibility goes beyond ensuring great-tasting, high-quality food. It is a place that aims to make a positive difference to the communities where it works, the wider environment and, of course, to the lives of its employees.

 

Interview at Wesfarmers

Interviewer: What is Coles?

Applicant: A place where people go to buy groceries.

Interviewer: No! It’s a place that is dedicated to giving Aussie families the products they need for a happy, healthy home life, at prices they can afford.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go…

The tools of my trade: mobile and casual

The tools of my trade: mobile and casual

Do you have the sort of job that is secure, full-time and that pays you holiday (vacation) leave and sick pay? Is it a job that encourages you to strive to achieve your best and that offers a career path and promotion? Do you feel valued and appreciated, thus making you a more loyal and committed employee?

If you answer yes to these questions, you are in the minority—at least in Australia and, as far as I can tell, in other Western countries such as NZ, the US and the UK. And even if you do have a ‘proper’ job, you’re often treated appallingly as an employee. For example, read about my blogosphere friend Goldfish’s treatment in the US this week: http://fishofgold.net/2014/08/03/when-2-hours-feels-like-5/

The appealing idea of being happy in our work is now only in the realms of Disney films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, she who whistled while she worked and they who sang merrily as they marched off to work in the mines.

When I first came to Australia in 1988 as a young but experienced journalist, things here were pretty good. Back in NZ, we still got ‘Christmas bonuses’—an extra week’s pay in December. That didn’t happen in Australia, and I had to take a pay cut, but there were other benefits. Rent, food and wine were cheaper in Australia, we got more holiday leave and—I can hardly believe I’m saying this now—we got a “leave loading”, that is, more pay when on leave than not. As a journalist, I worked most public holidays, but I also got six weeks and three days of paid holiday leave a year. We were all full-time employees with permanent positions.

Even in the early 2000s, when I worked for a magazine owned by the media mogul Kerry Packer, we all got enormous holiday hampers in December. These were worth several hundred dollars each, and included pretty much everything you needed for your celebration, including a choice of turkey, ham or salmon in a special fridge pack, wine, luxurious chocolates and much more. All company employees got the same type of hamper, from the lowliest office junior to the CEO.

Mr Packer is dead now, and so is that sort of magnanimity. Nowadays, you’re lucky if you don’t get laid off right before the holiday season.

I changed careers from journalism to tertiary education in 2008. In the tertiary education sector, latest statistics (2012) from the Commonwealth Department of Education paint a disturbing picture: 84% of all academic staff have insecure jobs; 80.3% of people employed in teaching-only positions are casual and a further 10.2% are on short-term contracts; and note that these are full-time equivalent numbers, each of which equates to four actual workers. These figures were reported in the July 2014 edition of Connect, the magazine for casual academic staff run by Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU, of which I am a delegate).

In her article ‘University work becoming more precarious’, NTEU president Jeannie Rea says that  there has been no comment on the statistics from any university, and that the NTEU is the only tertiary entity to have published them, apart from the government department.

I have been working as what is euphemistically called a “sessional” (really a casual) since 2008. Luckily, I have had enough work nearly every semester. But there is still that dreadful time from November to March when there is little or no work (I’m trying to rectify that now by working at another institution as well that has a summer trimester). At a time of year when the weather is warm and people in my industry should be relaxing or on vacation, I’m counting pennies and worrying about how much work I will get next semester so I can start paying off the inevitable credit card debt.

It’s not all bad though. I have time to write and to paint, time to recover from 60-hour weeks at the end of the year and so on.

But in my experience, nothing beats a secure full-time job. I believe the country is the poorer for treating many of its most highly educated, smartest and ablest workers, in fields from journalism to education to anything else you might name, as expendable commodities.

It’s a worker’s right to expect security and decent pay and conditions. In return, it is an employer’s right to expect that employee to work hard, to be loyal, honest and committed, to take sick leave only when they are sick, and to be respectful of the company and their co-workers.

Casual employment is a lose-lose situation for both employees and employers. When are they going to realise it? I predict that things will, eventually, change for the better. One day, some bright spark in HR will come up with the amazing idea that employees who feel secure and valued do better work, enabling the company to make more profit.

But I don’t think this will be in my working lifetime. I predict it will take a generation or more for this to happen. Hopefully, it will be in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

What are you doing on the weekend?

My office away from home: making the most of travel time on the train, thanks to new technology.  Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

My office away from home: making the most of travel time on the train, thanks to new technology.
Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

Remember when you’d say goodbye to your colleagues on Friday, secure in the knowledge that two days of rest stretched before you and that you wouldn’t have to do any work until Monday, or even think about it?
It certainly seems, through the rose-coloured glasses of the present, that that was the way.
It’s not quite true. In my first journalism job as a reporter on a daily country newspaper, I was rostered on every second weekend to take sports photos for the Monday edition. While it wasn’t a full day’s work each day, it was a couple of hours, and meant that whatever else I had to do was limited. And I often had my camera with me, in case anything newsworthy happened while I was out and about.
Later, when I worked at a big city daily, shifts were more defined, though we had to read the day’s papers BEFORE work (and to that end, they gave us free delivery of the city papers).
Still later, when I was an entertainment reporter for a weekly magazine, there were many evening functions we were expected to attend. During the week, that is. Weekends were still largely our own. That was in the 1990s, and even when I left the magazine in 1997, my employer wouldn’t have contacted me after hours or on weekends, unless it was an emergency.
My mother, a research scientist, more often than not had to go into the office on weekends or work from home. My dad, a dentist with a small business, often had to do his paperwork at home. He also worked as a university researcher for a few years – but after-hours work then was more about passion than necessity. In his later career, he worked as a 24-hour on-call dentist, so work could be any time at all, though naturally he had to actually go in to his surgery to do his work.
Still, in most jobs, there did seem to be a line between what was work time and what was home time.
My first real inkling that that had changed in some significant way was when I was working at a women’s magazine as Melbourne Editor in 2003. Unfortunately, our excellent news editor left and, while I happened to be on leave, a replacement news editor was brought in to head office in Sydney. Before I returned to work, she sent me an email. She asked me if I could send her a list and description of the stories I was planning to do when I returned from my vacation. Not send the list when I returned, but compile and send the list while I was on leave.
I should have ignored it, but meekly, I acquiesced. Bad mistake! She was constantly micro-managing me for the rest of my employment there. A colleague from the Sydney office said she used to be a good person, but that the power of her position had changed her. She made me do laborious and pointless jobs you’d hardly ask even a cadet to do, like taking notes from radio news and sending them unfiltered to her to judge their importance. In the end, she was one of the reasons I left. She was, quite simply, a bully and a control freak. (If you read this, B—–a, I really would like to give you an earful now that I’m older and wiser). It’s the only job I’ve ever had in which I’ve been made to feel incompetent (though I clearly wasn’t).
Thankfully, work bullies I have come across have been rare. More worrying for me these days is the way work has practically taken over my life. In addition, work modes have become less secure and there are cutbacks everywhere.
This year, I’ve had an extraordinary amount of work that has kept me busy seven days a week. Since I have no choice but to work on what’s called, euphemistically, a ‘sessional’ contract basis (casual, in other words, for what is clearly not a casual job), I have taken on as much work as I possibly can. It’s not available at one institution all year, though now that I work at two institutions, the gaps are closing. I’m lucky to have so much work: otherwise, I would be beholden to my partner for my living, which I am part of the time anyway, to my horror.
With preparation and marking, I haven’t had a day off since late February, except for a couple of days after Easter, when we moved house. Moving house is hardly a break.
One of my secret weapons is that, thanks to my tablet computer, I can now work on the train and make use of travel time to and from work. In fact, I’m writing this blog post on the train.  I can get loads of extra work done, and I like it particularly when the train’s not too full, so I can work quietly with plenty of elbow room. Sometimes, though, I rebel, and read a novel instead…for the whole journey.
I was thrilled this year to win a Dean’s award for teaching excellence. Among the goods I bought with my University Bookshop voucher prize was the philosopher Alain de Botton’s excellent volume on modern toil, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I realised the irony only later…

Long-ago interviews No. 3: David Soul and the difficult question

My TV Week story from August 6, 1994.

My TV Week story from August 6, 1994.

When I was a child in the 1970s, one of the cool American shows we all loved was Starsky and Hutch, starring Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul as Southern Californian detectives who were an unbeatable team.
I always liked Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson (Soul) best, though Starsky was the more stylish of the two with his chunky belted cardigan.
Starsky was the envy of young men everywhere, as was his Ford Gran Torino: one of my friends even bought a car painted like Starsky’s car, bright red with a white vector stripe along each side.
Anyway, many years later, when I was a reporter at TV Week magazine in Australia, I had the opportunity to interview one of my idols: Hutch—actor David Soul—was coming to town.
It was 1994 and Soul was no longer a big TV star, though he was still acting in films, still singing and writing. He had moved into directing, with episodes of Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues and China Beach to his credit.
Multi-skilled Soul had also gone into stage work, and at the time I interviewed him, was touring Australia and New Zealand with the play Blood Brothers.
Anyway, to me, he was still the star of Starsky and Hutch, so for the TV Week interview and photo shoot, I had a problem: though our amazing photographers always somehow made the stars look glamorous, our “studio” was a dreary, makeshift garage with a roller-door, in a back street behind our building’s car park.
There was no fridge, so you could only make instant black coffee or tea, though there was a shop over the road (which meant we then had to pay for refreshments ourselves).
The studio was cold and uninviting, and the door to the bathroom didn’t close.
Anyway, I had been told Soul and his PR person would meet us at the studio at the appointed time. I wondered if they’d find it, so, in case they came to the front of the building, I alerted the security guard at reception.
“If a guy comes in here looking for me, he’s an actor I’m interviewing and we’re round in the studio, so could you please direct him round there?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “What’s his name?”
“David Soul.”
He laughed. “Well that’s a name I won’t forget,” he said. “What a coincidence. Like the Starsky and Hutch guy.”
“Not only that—he really is that David Soul!” I said. The security guard saw all the stars come and go and was usually nonplussed, but he was suitably impressed by this name.
Anyway, at the time Soul was due to arrive, I was back in the studio as the photographer set up for the shoot. The hair and makeup artist also awaited his arrival.
I thought I’d duck out the roller door to see if he was coming.
He was. In true Hutch style, he was strolling down the street in a black shirt and blue jeans, jacket slung over his shoulder, sunglasses on, and smoking a large cigar.
Yes, this was certainly a bit of Hollywood in West Melbourne.
I was quaking in my high heels a bit, as I knew I had to ask him some difficult questions about his history of alcohol abuse and violence (he had been ordered by the court to stop drinking and undertake two years’ therapy in the 1980s for assaulting his then-wife Patti Sherman).
I asked that the room be cleared while I conducted the interview. So it was just him and me.
What I found was a personable being who answered all my questions openly and candidly. It was and is quite unusual, for a start, for a big-name actor to agree to an interview without a minder being present.
Anyway, I asked him about alcohol and his violence, and what he had done to change his ways.
“The problem was never really alcohol,” he told me. “It was anger, hurt, loneliness, being misunderstood. Alcohol never dominated my life, but it is a mind-altering substance. I think I can honestly say I’ve become much more circumspect and much less desperate a man. With that, the problems themselves become easier to deal with.”
Then aged 50, Soul had four ex-wives and six children aged six to 30. He has since married for a fifth time, in 2010 to Helen Snell, whom he met in 2002 while working on another play, Death Trap, in the UK. I can’t find anything much about her, so I’m presuming she’s not an actor. Soul emigrated to England not long after I interviewed him and became a British citizen in 2004. Hilariously, he and Glaser returned to the screen in cameo roles parodying themselves in the 2004 adaptation of Starsky and Hutch as a feature film starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
But back to my interview with Soul in 1994. He had some interesting observations about fame, which he had experienced not only as an actor, but as a singer of mega-hits in the late 1970s such as Silver Lady and Don’t Give Up On Us.
“Celebrity is a bunch of crap, because it keeps you from seeing who you are as a person,” he told me.

“Fame is a fleeting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. I’m still around.”
And that dreary photographic studio-garage I was worried about? He liked it! “I’ve been working in the theatre for years,” he said. “There’s certainly no glamour in the theatre and I don’t expect or want it.”

What price a newspaper?

newsI saw a pile of local newspapers when I was at the supermarket on Saturday. They weren’t free: they wanted 40c for a copy, the cover announced.

As I’m new to the area, I thought perhaps the local rag or ‘two-minute silence’ as we used to call such publications, would be a good source of community information.

Then when I saw the price, I hummed and hahed, and finally decided not to buy one. As I walked away, I realised how ridiculous that was. It was only 40 cents! I pay 10 times that for a coffee without baulking (well, I do baulk at it, actually, but that’s what you have to pay).

Today, I went back to the supermarket to buy the Berwick News. As a former print-media journalist, my profession for more than 20 years, I feel I should support old-fashioned newspapers, even in their dying days.

Unfortunately, there were no copies left. And the joke’s on me: the assistant informed me that those copies were going free, because they were left over from earlier in the week, when they were sold at the nearby news agent. Today I went to the news agent and got one: also free, though I’d happily have paid.

I know most community newspapers are run by big media chains, but they’re still important. The other night, in my street, there was some sort of emergency, with sirens and evacuation loud speakers, after midnight. I asked on the newspaper’s website if anyone knew what had happened. Someone from the paper has replied and is looking into it.

I met an old friend at a party recently who used to work with me on a national magazine in the 1990s. The magazine moved interstate, then she was out of the workforce for a few years as a full-time mother. Then, about seven years ago, she started looking for a job again. She found one as a sub-editor at a local paper, and loves it.

“I think we make a real difference in the community,” she says. “Everyone in the office cares about the paper, and it’s so nice working in the same suburb I live in.” She’s been promoted, too, and is now chief sub-editor.

It was a heart-warming story. Here’s cheers to all the journos I know who have reinvented themselves, retrained, or found work on a different sort of publication than they once imagined themselves working on. It’s a difficult terrain out there for our profession at the moment. You have to take what you can get: but sometimes, what you get turns out to be surprisingly OK.

Oh, and if you see a local paper for just a few cents, do buy one.