Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

My mother died this Christmas Eve

December 24, 2013

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My mother died in the early hours of this morning. She passed away peacefully at the age of 101.

This is a picture my father took when they married in 1938.

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I launch my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at an Oxford Book shop

November 25, 2013

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I have launched my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at the Summertown Book House in Oxford.

It’s about a woman of Hungarian origin who belatedly realises she lost half her family in Auschwitz, returns to discover her roots, and goes through personal dramas as she takes over her grandfather’s flat in Budapest. It’s a true story delving into some of Europe’s darkest and most sensitive history, ending on an uplifting and poignant note.

As for any author, the launch was a rite of passage. Waiting for the audience to arrive, feeling the buzz around the bookshop and presenting the book – these are unforgettable moments. Published by Crux Publishing, London. Available as paperback and ebook.

Now the book is delivered to the world! May it enjoy a long life and captivate those who hold it in their hands.

http://www.marcusferrar.org/index.html

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Actors should be heard – rule number 1

October 19, 2013

Saw Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” at the Oxford Playhouse last night. Saw, not heard, because those of us in the Circle could catch only around half the words spoken by actors of the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS).

The OUDS is a prestigious launching pad for professional acting careers. But perhaps they should first learn elocution. The Playhouse is also a venerable institution, but it should not charge full prices for wanna-be amateurs.

Was the play good? Dunno.

Why there will be no “Arab Spring” in China

March 8, 2012

Rob Gifford, head of The Economist’s new China section, talked to Fellows of the Reuters Institute of Journalism in Oxford. Highlights:

– In Arab countries people were hopeless. In China, there is hope. People are getting wealthier, and many believe they are lucky to be able to “join the gold rush.” There will be no “Arab Spring” in China.

– Over 300 million Chinese are middle class. But there is a big gap in living standards between the cities and the countryside and this is causing tensions.

– The regime’s unspoken deal is: stay out of politics and you can do what you like. The Chinese people have bought the deal.

– China has 175 million manufacturing jobs. But it can no longer live on being a cheap manufacturer. Skilled labour is so expensive and scarce in the coastal cities that firms are building new factories deep in the interior.

– The current combination of a one-party state and market economy cannot last. State capitalism has done well so far, but is transitional, not sustainable.

– The regime is frozen and unable to plan a road map forward. Communist Party politicians are scared of the chaos which broke up the Soviet Union under Gorbachev.

– China won’t be able to keep up its non-interventionist foreign policy of the the last 20 years, since it has so many Chinese working abroad. China is already helping nations combat piracy.

– Chinese journalists cannot write about Taiwan or Tibet – the subjects are off limits.Chinese know nothing about the crimes of Mao Tse-Tung. The subject is too painful.

– Over the next decade, China is likely to be transformed by the development of a civil society.

– If you are confused about China, you should be!

 

Oxford libraries start lending ebooks

March 5, 2012

5.3.2012 Oxtimes_mail_Libraries joining eBook revolution

 

Guardian phone-hacking exposure: a lonely road against latent menace

March 4, 2012

The Guardian led the way in exposing phone-hacking by journalists of News International. Other papers now cover it too, including The Times, a News International title, but for many months they looked the other way.

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger spoke for an hour at the Philips Geddes lecture in Oxford last Friday about the lonely place his newspaper found itself in when it broke the story and followed up over a period of months.

The Head of the Metropolitan Police came to his office trying to persuade him to lay off. Another senior police officer turned up a few days later to exert more pressure. Subsequently it emerged some police and other officials were being corrupted by News International with regular payments for salacious gossip.

News International at first denied practically everything. Over the following months they admitted quite a lot.

Other newspapers kept away from the story, which leads Rusbridger to conclude they had an unspoken understanding not to attack Murdoch’s newspapers. Prime Minister David Cameron continued friendly contacts with News International executives.

Rusbridger can quietly count his triumphs. The two senior policemen have had to resign. Cameron has had to rid himself of the former News International editor who was his communication director.

James Murdoch and Rebekah Wade have lost their top jobs at News International’s UK newspapers. The group’s best-selling UK newspaper has had to close. A number of News International journalists have been arrested.

The newspaper rivals to the Guardian have had to follow a story they originally spurned.

And the independent Leveson inquiry into the media has been lifting the lid on malpractices and corruption of an extent nobody imagined.

When I was a journalist, I too can remember the hot breath of powerful figures occasionally leaning over my shoulder with latent menace, if not on the scale that Rusbridger must have felt.

He has an understated style and does not crow. All credit to him for walking a path others dared not tread.

Numbers, damned statistics and egg on journalists’ faces: cautionary tales

March 1, 2012

If you read a headline that eating a bacon sandwich a day increases your risk of cancer by 20%, that’s sounds bad. Not according to Tim Harford, columnist of the Financial Times.

At a seminar of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, he gave a hair-raising account of the pitfalls awaiting journalists tempted to use juicy statistics in news stories.

So what cancer was involved? It turned out to be bowel cancer. How many people get bowel cancer in the UK? Four in 100. So a 20% increase means five in 100. Is that so much different? Is the bacon sandwich factor significant? Hardly.

A British Prime Minister announced that his government would spend £300 million over five years on care for pre-school children. Seemed a lot. But divided by five, the amount each year was £60 million. Around one million pre-school children in the UK qualified, so that made £60 per child per year. Which was about 20 pence per day.

“Not much childcare to be bought for that,” notes Harford.

These are his tips for journalists dealing with numbers:
– Is it true?
– What’s really being said? Does the statistic exactly define what’s measured?
– What’s the bigger story – the context, the history, the period of time?

Mmm. After 50 minutes of his harrowing tales, I think I’ll avoid numbers altogether. I’m just going to look silly.

Library once condemned for closure flourishes after modernisation

February 20, 2012

Oxford’s Summertown Public Library, condemned to disappear only a year ago, is not only reprieved but is looking smarter than ever. It’s been given a makeover which has made it brighter and more convivial. There are self-service check-in machines and bright new bookshelves which can be moved aside to create a meeting space.

Oxfordshire County Council, which just over a year ago announced it would close the Library, not only reversed its decision but found modest funds to modernise.

The Friends of Summertown Library, who a year ago were staging noisy demonstrations by mothers and children outside County Hall, contributed campaign funds to finance furniture for a popular new Readers’ Corner.

Not only did the community triumph over cultural vandalism, but cooperation replaced confrontation. Or, as they put it in one of those library books, swords were turned into ploughshares.

See www.friendsofsummertownlibrary.org/

Will Leveson change the British media? Unlikely. But something can be done.

November 23, 2011

This year’s Reuters Memorial Lecture in Oxford earlier this week focused on the astonishing invasions of privacy by the UK media being revealed to the Leveson inquiry. A panel of leading academics and media people provided interesting and varied insights into the conflict between privacy and freedom of the press. ‘Something must change’ was the consensus, and in the direction of more control.

I doubt whether all that much will change in the long run, nor should it. Britain has laws protecting both privacy and free speech. The tension between the two has existed ever since people gathered round the village pump and chatted.

Hacking into telephones of victims of crime does seem outrageous. At the same time, a glance at popular media web sites shows some celebrities pretending to be enjoying private moments clearly pose for paparazzi to attract attention, adding sexual titillation to make it captivating. Likewise, media headlines every day reveal attempts by governments and corporations to manipulate and cover up. So we may regret more controls.

Can anything be done? Baroness Onora O’Neill, the lecturer, suggested journalists should have to reveal publicly the extent to which they use covert methods to collect information. No betraying of sources, just a cataloguing of their practices. I am not sure what benefits this would have brought when I was a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War. But generally transparency is welcome.

I suggest mobile telephone companies should also be regulated to force them to make their phones more secure. In the digital age, this is unlikely to be absolute. But banks have generally been able to keep ahead of the criminals in e-banking, so why not mobile phone makers?

Lastly, people having a tough time with journalists could make more use of professional media coaching. This is not foolproof, but can allay fears and restore confidence. For people with few resources, perhaps the state could even provide this for free, in the same way as it offers psychological counselling to victims of crimes of violence.

Make winter tyres mandatory

December 20, 2010

Having moved recently to Britain, I realise winter tyres are not on anybody’s radar screen here. Perhaps that is one reason why things get so snarled up here when it snows.

In Switzerland, the law says your vehicle must be “adapted to the conditions”, which in practice means winter tyres are mandatory once it snows. If you don’t have them, you can be fined. If you cause an accident still on summer tyres, the insurance won’t pay.

Winter tyres are no big deal. You wear your summer ones down less while you are running on the winter set. You don’t need an extra set of wheels. Garages change the tyres over in half an hour while you wait. Cost: about £50 a time.

Today I pushed a Royal Mail van stuck in the snow. It had summer tyres. Tonight, all post-boxes where I live were crammed full. They had not been emptied since Friday.

I suggest Britain too legislates that drives must ensure their vehicles are “adapted to the conditions.” That by itself would do much to keep things moving.


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