Tag Archives: freelance

The story of Mutt and the Tesco Man

Every day, or at least on the days I pass by, there’s a man that sits outside my local grocery store.

He sits in the same place, usually the same position, with a gray-muzzled dog laying by his feet. The man’s back is to the curb and his attention stays wistfully upon the front automatic door. Although his hair is greasy and his beard unkempt, he always has the most pleasant face. I don’t know his name, but in my mind I think of him as the Tesco Man – uncreatively named after his grocery store.

Tesco Man doesn’t seem to speak much unless spoken to. Other passers by approach him with seemingly no trouble, and Tesco Man’s dog is more than happy to receive a friendly pat or preferably a scratch behind the ears. On sunny days, the dog will sit with a recognizable doggy smile – on rainy days, the dog will huddle close to its master, and miserably eye passing feet. I don’t know the dog’s name, either. Its coat is dark and fairly sleek, but its muzzle is peppered with signs of age. Much like the beard of its master. In my mind, I call the dog simply “Mutt.”

Mutt and Tesco. I’m not sure what to make of them. On some days, exiting shoppers will quietly lay plastic bags with spare items at their feet. A friend of mine once wordlessly donated a few pences worth of dog food. I’ve thought of doing the same, but mostly as a way to start conversation with Tesco Man – who is he? What does he do? Where is he all day, when not keeping quiet vigil of the grocery store? Where does he live, sleep? What is his name?

I look at Tesco Man and silently remember my own blessings. Anyone can complain of personal trauma or financial instability – but I haven’t seen those complaints yet in Tesco Man. Even Mutt on its most miserable days seems to take it all in stride.

Perhaps someday soon I’ll spare a few items to Tesco Man, just to see whether I can set a few moments of his advice or wisdom aside.

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Visitor’s guide: London rain? Check.

In all the murmurings you hear about London, two phrases stick out: the London rain, and the London fog.

Luckily, my visit has so far completely lacked the latter. Instead, following at the heels of the recent UK heatwave, the London rain has soaked into the city’s routine once again.

It began with on-and-off rain throughout the day. Then without warning, a downpour began at about four-thirty. Judging by the sudden appearance of umbrellas walking about the exiting work crowd, no one seem to mind or even be surprised.

But then the rain fell thicker and harder, and froze into bouncing hail on the sidewalks. The herds of office workers and their umbrellas vanished from the streets. Bus and cab wheels churned through inches-deep water, looking very awkward and somewhat amphibious. Tiny waves started creeping over curbs and across sidewalks – it was as if Mother Nature planned to turn London asphalt into Italy canals.

At first, it was fun to watch the thick rain arrive in windy waves up and down the street. It was even fun to watch it turn to dancing hail. But when water crept to the lobby door, the situation grew a little less comical. The question that came to mind was, how are we all getting home?

The moment the rain let up, throngs of umbrellas surged into the streets. But while we all waded towards Victoria station, we were greeted by a most unwelcome sight – sirens, alarms and flashing lights. “EMERGENCY: DO NOT ENTER” signs were lit above the entrances, and like a strange, slow-moving stampede, Tube and train-goers were evacuating the station.

Bright yellow-vested staffers guided the crowd around a growing river, formerly known as a walkway – London talk for sidewalk. Stranded office workers and train passengers alike searched for high ground – which is hardly as dramatic as it sounds, since “high ground” was only a difference of a few vertical inches. But the driest grounds ran out quickly as they swelled with numbers. Some simply gave up staying dry and simply snagged their shoes off their feet and pattered about in the walkway river.

Cellphones appeared. Office executives both male and female, students of all ages and even some of the elderly began chatting or texting into their mobiles. Some asked friends or family at home for weather updates, others chatted nervously as they eyed the DO NOT ENTER signs. It was the anniversary of 07/07, or the day suicide bombers blew apart the buses above and Tube below of the London transit system. Perhaps 07/07 was more fresh in their minds due to the unveiling of a memorial for the victims, opened just that day.

But this 07/07 was simply wet and soggy – Mother Nature having fun, cutting back and letting loose after the heat wave the week before. So while some commuters chose to hang about Victoria station in hopes that services would resume soon, others simply left. Barefoot commuters trudged through the streets, while others stubbornly kept their shoes on as if they simply didn’t care.

Near Buckingham, finely dressed couples hopped over puddles as they entered the streets. Couples young and old eyed the skies and some laughed. Meanwhile, Buckingham horses hung their heads low, and accepted the occasional pat on the head by sympathetic passers by.

The next afternoon, free newspapers claimed that a “month’s worth” of rain fell in only two hours – or approximately 1.3 inches. Perhaps only a meteorologist can confirm whether that’s true.

The only assured thing is that I walked two hours through flooded streets and walkways to arrive home with mud still squished between my toes.

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Video: Westboro Baptist Church at Mason

Although my Canon PowerShot A400 wasn’t designed with high-end video in mind, even low-end technology can capture just the right moment.

This is a capture of George Mason University students and local community members alike holding counter-protest signs and cheering at beeps and honks from passing cars.

About two minutes after this video was taken, a large truck lumbered into the intersection and gave the counter-protesters an ear-splitting hello. This made the counter-protesters cheer only louder.

The 6 Westboro Baptist Church members were approximately twenty feet ahead of where this video was taken.

A gallery of photos:

See more on Flickr. For my intial post and observations written one hour after the protest, go here.

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Weather the Economic Storm: Freelance

With graduation months away, I’ve spent long hours researching online on what to do during economic hard times. I turned up something rather special on accident.

Writing as a profession has always been an uphill struggle. There are tricks of the trade such as tone, audience and credibility that must be mastered. But recessions always makes job-searching difficult. To put simply – there are less to find.

What a friend of mine called the “lack of a new business plan” for today’s media is what is hurting journalist institutions the most. The individual journalist can still find material, research and write – but where to publish and how to make money is now the $1 million question. Print isn’t what it used to be and online media isn’t the perfect answer quite yet.

But without meaning to, I received some fantastic advice from journalism veteran Barbara Iverson while posting on the We Media Community journalism message board:

First and foremost, it is critical to keep doing what you love. You are going to have to kludge together freelance work and whatever you can get until the economy looks up a bit. Don’t just sit. If you don’t have a paid reporting gig, assign yourself a story to cover, and cover it for a community paper, for a blog, for Huffington Post, etc. etc. Make sure you can write, take photos, edit and upload them quickly, shoot short videos, record audio and make podcasts. When you can’t get paid, do it to please yourself. Practice makes perfect.”

Practice makes perfect. To read all of Barbara’s reply, go here.

Barbara also related today’s economic hardship with a similar situation in the 70s. In many ways, the journalists that are graduating now are in the same boat that previous generations were stranded in before.

Times may be hard, but some things just don’t change: it’s time to freelance, freelance, freelance.

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