Is this today’s craziest school of thought – as education chiefs abolish schools

 

Wester Hailes Education Centre

Wester Hailes Education Centre

School has been abolished.

In the part of Mereseyside where this extraordinary revolution has taken place, youngsters of secondary school age ought to be whooping with delight and throwing their hats in the air.

Reality, as you might expect, is slightly different. The tinkering classes at the snappily named Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council haven’t precisely abolished school as, er, repurposed it.

In the lexicon of bullsh*t bingo (where you call house when you have collected all the best corporate nonsense-speak phrases from ‘blue sky thinking’ to ‘pop this in your mental microwave and see if it pings’) my current favourite word or expression is  most definitely “repurposing”.

I gather this is also a favourite word among the high-heid-yins at KMBC’s Children’s and Families Services Directorate (and breathe…). After all, they are labouring under a creaking label which is a painfully wordy repurposing of, well, the simple old education department.

Now I don’t need the good council’s press office to ring me and let me know that this directorate does loads more than look after education. No doubt there is a wealth of worthwhile services provided by the Children’s and Families bods.

However, punters being punters don’t really care. That’s why so many ordinary people still refer to “corporation buses” or “water boards”. Such plain speaking anachronims no longer exist in our public services utopia. But we like the names because they tell us everything we need to know. And we’ve generally got the brains to understand there’s a bit more going on behind the scenes.

Which brings me back to schools. We’re all cosily familiar and comfortable with the concept. Even to the point were we understand that private school and  public shcool are actually the same thing – and that most of us actaully attended state or comprehensive schools.

Maybe your fondest memories are from senior school or junior school. Perhaps you knew exactly what you wanted to be when you were at  pre-school or maybe you still didn’t know where you were going even when you finished secondary school. Either way, schools are a quintessential facet of childhood, right through to summer schools during the holidays and Sunday Schools for those of a church-going bent,.

Many go on to study at music schools, business schools, art schools, law schools or medical schools – or maybe stage schools and drama schools. When it comes to recreation maybe you’re more cookery school  than rock school. Whatever.

The point being that we all fundamentally understand the concept of school in its great, amorphous and many-tentacled diversity. Part of the reason for this is that in our society – and pretty much every other one I know of, youngsters attend school from roughly the age of five to 16. It’s one of life’s comforting little constants.

Excepts kids in Knowesly won’t be going to school for much longer. The local authority is abolishing its 11 existing secondary schools to replace them with seven “learning centres” open round-the-clock to the entire community.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not quite curmudgeonly or reactionary enough (yet) to dismiss this out of hand. In fact, I actually like the sound of lots of the work. Which leaves me cringing and asking why they have to sully something which should be exciting and innovative, by turning it into an insulting and bonkers, PC-gone-mad renaming exercise?

I don’t know whether the Media Office/Public Relations department at the council are old stagers who will be wringing  their hands in angst at this (and wishing they could wring the necks of the people who dreamt it up).

Or whether they are the kind of clever and presentable (but usually-dead-eyed) readicals who embrace political correctness in the same way fundamentalists embrace the outer extremes of religion.

Either way, in my professional capacity I think this is an utter PR disaster – most notably shown when two opposing camps were invited on to Radio 5 Live this morning to debate the issue.

The man from the Campaign for Real Education was able to speak plainly – urging the council to call a school a school  while encouraging staff, parents and pupils alike to to get on with the process of education. Sure, open it up to the community, like many schools already do, but ditch the name change idea because it is a piece of trendy, politically correct nonsense.

On the other side of the debate, was the functionary from the council. I’m sure he is a very nice and eloquent chap. But he sounded like a stuttering ringpiece because he was restricted by the descriptive confines of the PC madness his authority has adopted: it was all “consultation”, “outcomes” and “protocols”.

However, I’m not only speaking in a purely professional capacity, but a very, very personal one. You see, I didn’t go to school. Nope, I went to a 1970s social engineering experiment called Wester Hailes Education Centre - also known as WHEC.

Wester Hailes Education Centre

Wester Hailes Education Centre

I don’t have a bad word to say about the school, the staff or the education I received there. However, growing up in the 80s, there was a fair degree of stigma being from Wester Hailes, the sprawling sink estate almost always associated with AIDS, heroin abuse, poverty and crime. 

As awkward teenager finding my way in the world , meeting young people from other parts of Edinburgh could be testing. Kids carry terrible preconceptions. Justifying to a judgemental peer group that the area I came from didn’t automatically mean I was a junkie, AIDS risk or housebreaker could be hard.

However, then explaining that my school was actually an “education centre” guaranteed the entire process was absolutely excruciating. Almost everybody assumed that education centre actually meant re-education centre and believed that it was some sort of penal reform venue.

This ugly naming convention dogged me long after school (should that be education centre?) was behind me. Trying to explain it to fellow college students and later work colleagues was also painful. To avoid the borstal assumptions, whenever people asked me where I went to school, I would simply reply WHEC. That led to many people thinking I said Wick – and opened up a whole new can of worms with the assumption I was some sort of Highland teuchter.

Eventually I gave up. Now I try not to talk about school at all. Not that I’m ashamed of being from Wester Hailes – but because it’s too damned annoying having to explain why the place couldn’t simply be called a school and had to be an “education centre”.

For me school was great. Thanks to the PC shenanigans of a bunch of 70s and 80s bureaucrats who fancied themselves as social pioneeers, talking about it has always been difficult.

That’s a school of thought the education (and the PR people) at Knowsley Council should be considering. Here endeth the lesson.

Lions in the snow equals PR hit. Bears in the sun equals PR miss

Pride Comes Before a Frost

Pride Comes Before a Frost

I headed to work yesterday with my favourite radio presenters talking about a photograph of lions in the snow at a Scottish safari park.

I arrived at work yesterday to be greeted with wall-to-wall newspaper coverage (including various front pages) of lions in the snow at a Scottish safari park.

When I got home last night it was to be greeted by my missus on the phone to various friends and relatives asking if they’d seen – you’ve guessed it – the photos of the lions in the snow at the Scottish safari park.

Bosses at Blair Drummond Safari Park must have been rubbing their frozen hands together in glee at the coverage in what turned out to be a spectacular PR success story – like the front page picture shown here on the Scottish Daily Express.

Fair play as well, because the photos were superb (yet mysteriously did not have a byline for the photographer in any of the papers I saw).

I had my first and only trip to Blair Drummond in the late summer. I was very, very impressed. The facilities are excellent, from the parking and the play areas, to the DIY barbecue areas and the animal viewing platfoms.

Unfortunately the day we were there was a scorcher (there weren’t many this year). That wouldn’t normally be a problem, except that the Scottish bears (sporting bad hair-dos, beer bellies, tattoos and  “leisurewear“) reacted entirely predictably.

At the first sign of sunshine half the park (and it was mobbed) stripped down to their waists, with unpleasant acres of peely-wally flesh on display. It was, frankly, horrible. I don’t mind rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed. But when it’s a bare, hairy and sunburnt shoulder, I just wish they’d put it away.

You wouldn’t have to endure this kind of unpleasantness anywhere on the continent – so we why should we have to put up with it from a bunch of dietary challenged, pasty-complected Central Belt Scots?

Later we were bemoaning this fact to another family who’d been at the park just a few days earlier – and they had exactly the same complaint. In fact, they got so fed up they cut their trip short and headed home. And that’s just two families – I suspect there are many more who feel the same way.

I can give the bosses at Blair Drummond one priceless piece of PR advice (and this is a freebie!) that will do them far more good than all the snowy lions and cute lemur pictures imaginable.

It is this: take a lead from the bosses of Legoland in leafy Windsor, where Middle Englanders turning up with their kids for a day out are warned they’ll be shown the door if they so much as think about stripping off, as this sign points out:

Keep Yer Clothes On!

Keep Yer Clothes On!

Fawltygate – how Brand and Ross really brought low the BBC

Smashie and Nicey

Smashie and Nicey

I’ve tried really hard to avoid the whole Brand/Ross debacle. I wasn’t remotely offended by what they did or said. And I feel sorry for none of the central characters.

The only thing that does me in the whole sorry episode is the response of the newspapers – particularly the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. Rather predictably, they looked for a cheap way to stir up the most vulgar and visceral emotions in their readers.

I’d love to have been in on the news conference where Associated Newspaper’s finest decided – in a blaze of Middle England crusading righteousness, no doubt – that a bearded and unfunny Lothario and a speech defected TV institution suddenly posed the greatest risk to the nation’s moral fibre (all for a juvenile broadcast made almost a week earlier which had sunk without a trace!).

At what point, I wonder, will Brand and Ross dip back below immigrants, gypsies, the MMR jab, Labour politicians, public policy tsars and social workers as the Daily Mail’s hate subjects of choice?

However, the Mail isn’t a alone in throwing out all editorial balance to stick the boot into the Beeb for its, er, flawed editorial policy. Most of the papers have enjoyed having a go. Yet, the most delicious irony of all is this: to get clear, insightful and balanced debate about the Fawltygate affair, there was only one place to go – the BBC.

Best I heard was a piece which went out on Radio Five Live’s breakfast show on Friday (oct 31). During the original live broadcast, Nicky Campbell was uncharacteristically quiet as he gave veteran DJ Paul Gambaccini free rein to let rip about the whole affair.

In a five minute assassination the American-accented throwback to Radio One’s 1980s heyday painted a colourful picture of Brand as a monstrous and damaging ego who is apparently universally loathed by the backroom staff at the Beeb.

Gambaccini also claimed the hirsute and worryingly hormonal comedian had been allowed to gut the Beeb’s usual chain of command, by successfully demanding the sacking of at least six producers who had the temerity to stand up to his worst excesses.

Next he railed against the iniquities of celebrity culture – which he suggested had seen devoted and professional radio people ousted to make way for those whose only qualification is some sort of fame. Gambaccini even slated Ross and Brand for standing up during their now notorious broadcast – as this was evidence of their complete inability to operate the basic radio console/desk/hardware.

After telling listeners there simply weren’t enough superlatives with which he could praise the saintly Lesley Douglas (the former station boss, who fell on her sword over the affair), Gambaccini then went on to berate her.

In his opinion she’d committed an impossibly dimwitted faux pas – not only did she hire the snake-hipped Brand, she stuck by him through thick and thin as some sort of obsessive pet project.

These jaw-dropping assertions were all delivered with a the kind of faded theatricality we simply never hear on radio these days. And Gambo (as Campbell cringemakingly insisted on calling him) wasn’t content to stop there.

Oh no. Next up he announced that only once in his 40 year careeer had he ever felt compelled to write a letter of complaint to BBC managment. Surprise, surprise – it was penned when it was announced Brand was to join Radio 2. 

Gambo even managed to sound pained while bigging himself up for so accurately having forseen what was to come – Brand was indeed proved to be a “timebomb” who was entirely inappropriate for a slot on Radio 2.

This was pure radio gold – and I would have loved to have ripped the full, uninterrupted interview and shared it with you. However you’ll have to make do with this Guardian report of the piece instead (click here) – and these edited highlights, below.

You see,  the Gambaccini interview is no longer available in full. Only a carefully edited version is available – with this disclaimer: “There are a couple of edits on legal advice”.

And THAT is how Brand and Ross have really brought the Beeb low.

I’m not worried about the fact their schoolboy shenanigans were allowed to air without even the lightest touch from the thought police – but I’m desperately disappointed it set in motion a chain reaction which has led to this genuinely engaging (and entertaining) piece of commentary to be censored.

Can someone explain that one to me? You couldn’t make it up.

Here is the censored version, which still gives a pretty good measure of just how embittered Gambo is. Its marvellouse to hear this Smashie and Nicey-style rant. Rock-a-tock-a-tabulous, Mate!

Want an audience with the Prime Minister of Showbiz? Join the Q

Tabloid gossip column exclusives are not normally the types of stories which muscle their way onto Radio 5 LIve’s breakfast show. Especially in the middle of the financial crisis.

However yesterday’s world exclusive front page story on The Sun, about Madonna’s split with Guy Ritchie, generated interest even in the staid world of the BBCs talk channel.

Which meant I got treated to the dulcet tones of former Deadline Press and Picture Agency reporter Gordon Smart (now the editor of the Sun’s Bizarre showbiz section) when he was interviews by Nicky Campbell  on Tuesday’s breakfast show .

Young Goags now hangs about with megastars most of the time while putting in 14-hour days for The Currant. Which is how come he was breaking the story of Madonna’s divorce to an expectant world.

Anyone who lands the Bizarre job is destined for great things – and Goags has the potential to go further than any of his predecessors, including Piers Morgan. He’s pleasing on the eye, charming to a fault and, as this radio interview proves, he’s not only a comfortable speaker – but an adept one.

For my money, this is the clearest sign yet that Goags has the potential to be a big broadcast star and that the world of newspapers (even the dizzy heights of one of the top job on the world’s number one title) is just the start of his career.

Earlier this month Gordon also features in Q magazine - a four page spread, featured at the top of this post, on the influence he wields in the music world. Apart from the fact that photos prove he’s stolen Noel Gallagher’s haircut, Liam Gallagher’s sideburns and Paul Weller’s cravat, this article most caught my attention for three reasons:

1 – The revelation that when Goags landed the job, Piers Morgan sent him an email reading: “Dear Gordon. Rest assured that you’ll never be as good as me, but you’ll be better than Coulson, Mohan and Newton without breaking sweat.”

2 – The way the Q journalist describes him: “A roguish-looking guy in a nice suit with a soft, Scottish accent, his face creases up when laughs … he’s polite and attentive; it’s easy to see why people open up to him.”

3 – The assertion that: “His journalistic break came with 2003′s MTV Awards, held in Edinburgh. As celebrities descended, Smart punted out tip-offs to Victoria Newton and Rav Singh, her counterpart at the News Of The World. They offered him a job on the strength of that.”

On the first point, after hearing Gordon’s assured radio performance (at 7.20am) I’d be willing to bet he’ll be bigger (and better) than Piers Morgan. The second point comes closer than anything I’ve read before to explain Gordon’s sheer likeability, which is at the core of his success.

Which explains why I’m prepared to forgive him for Point 3 – because those “exclusive” tip offs to The Sun and NOTW and payment should have been coming to me, since Deadline was paying his wages at the time!

But he was always a sharp cookie -and a total charmer. Which is why we offered him a job on the spot, even though a copy of Razzle dropped out of the folded Daily Telegraph he was carrying under his arm in an attempt to pretend he was interest in “serious” news.

The boy done good.

NOTE TO CELEBS: Those of you in need of improved PR exposure may beat a path to my door by clicking here.

When he’s under fire, joker Alastair doesn’t half sound serious

A compelling piece of radio reportage this morning, as I tuned in as usual to Radio 5 Live: the sound of British troops on manouevres and under heavy fire in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

The adrenaline-fuelled tension of the situation positively crackled out of the speakers. First off it was Boy’s Own Adventure stuff as British troops pre-empted an anticipated Taliban attack by going on the offensive. The cracks and reports of exchanged fire sounded eerily scary against the rather strained cheerfulness of the soldiers.

Tensions ratcheted up when a faulty British mortar misfired and left two of the British squaddies injured. Within seconds attack became retreat, with one platoon stretchering away an injured pal.

A second platoon suddenly seemed to be in an extremely vulnerable situation. Minutes before they had been intercepting communications from Taliban fighters on the back foot. Now they were listening to the same enemy, jubilantly planning a bloody ambush of the depleted British force.

At the heart of the report was a reassuringly unflappable BBC voice. In a piece of superb war reporting the narrator was right in the thick of it, describing first hand the sniper rounds whistling past his ears, and capturing the whispers, grunts and shouts of professional troops who were both fired up and fired upon. The bravery of the soldiers was evident – the bravery of the reporter all too easy to overlook in the unfolding drama.

Step forward Alastair Leithead, the Beeb’s man who’s been embedded with troops in Afghanistan for  a couple of years now. During that time he’s not only proven his bravery, but earned himself a set of impeccable journalistic credentials. He’s without doubt an accomplished and serious reporter.

For me, it’s that serious part that’s really most gratifying. Our professional paths crossed a long time ago, when I was the young news editor of the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle and Alastair was the latest, raw recruit sent up from the training centre.

A rugby-playing tank of a young man, he had all the equipment to be a cracking reporter. But he seemed determined to trip himself up at every opportunity by playing the office clown. Whenever he was on a job that needed straight and uncomplicated coverage, some inexplicable mishap would befall the young Al and the job would be scuppered by … what I can only describe as buffoonery.

For instance, it didn’t help that he thought it perfecly acceptable to turn up for work wearing multi-coloured floral waistcoats and matching bowties made by his granny. Which on a powerfully-built (even scary-looking) 20-year-old seemed decidedly odd. Especially when he was on a death knock in one of Newcastle’s most run down slums.

For a while it seemed Alastair was more committed to full-time rugby club japes, than developing a career in journalism. So much so that for work purposes his surname was translated from Leithead to Meathead – or ‘Meat’ for short. 

While Alastair was a barrel of laughs and one of the most popular people in the office, a few of us worried his career was destined to be little more than a footnote in his life: just one way of throwing up situations where he could get into Harold Lloyd-style scrapes and provide the rest of us with a feeling of schadenfreude.

My abiding memory of Alastair is being carousingly drunk and watching bemusedly as he climbed on to the first passing bus while wearing a traffic cone on his head. I moved on from Newcastle shortly after that and lost track of what he did next. So I don’t really know where and when he put aside the tomfoolery and came of age as a reporter.

Reckless bravery came naturally to Alastair even back then. Like the time he cycled into the heart of Manchester’s notorious Moss Side (armed only with his floral waistcoat) to track down and confront the scumbags who stole his car. This at the time when the area was best known for the armed turf wars between some of Britain’s craziest gangbangers.

Little doubt that as a war correspondent he’s found his metier. I just wonder if he’s managed to find a bow tie to match his flak jacket.

Truly wonderful – a tag that’s all about meme!

Peter AllenNicky Campbell

My old mucker Shaun Milne tagged me on his blog to take part in some kind of online experiment called a meme - from what I can gather this is a new media version of pyramid selling, except you don’t have to part with any money.

Since it came to Shaun from new media guru Neil McIntosh, I am taking it pretty seriously.

The subject is My Week in the Media and I wonder if this experiment got its name because I get to talk all about me ?. 

As , ahem, a serious and responsible member of the online community, I want to play my part, so here goes:

WHAT I’VE READ

In the past week I’ve read the end of A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory. My favourit genre is crime fiction, though not the usual murder mysteries or old pot boilers – and virtually never any predictable tosh about serial killers.  Eeurgh. Rather, I prefer gritty social commentary that asks subtle questions about morality and the mores of society; that refuses to accept black and white models of good and evil. If that comes wrapped in the goregous, descriptive prose of James Lee Burke, the stacatto, frenzied stream-of-consciousness of James Ellroy or the spare, stylised street observations of George Pelecanos or Walter Mosley, then so much the better.

Of course, most of those I’ve just namechecked are unapologetically American. I was most surprised to learn that R.J.Ellory – despite his William Faulkner leanings – is Brit to the core. Still living in Birmingham, as it happens. So I was singularly impressed with the way he seemed to effortlessly encapsulate the feeling of hick Americana from the 40s and 50s. I enjoyed the writing – even though it turned out to be a serial killer book.

Also this week I read Christine Falls by Booker prize winning author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. I found it unrelentingly annoying that he seemed determined to tick every single cliche with his cantankerous, chain-smoking, borderline alcoholic, unlucky in love, cyncical and world weary, subterranean-dwelling pathologist and his wearily dysfunctional friends, adversarises and family. I also found the relentless cartoon-Irish characterisastions tiresome. No wonder he wrote it under an assumed name – he must be mortified that people found out who he really is and he’s now sullied his high-brow reputation with this guff.

Finally, I made a start on Rabbit, Run by John Updike. You can’t argue with the writing and I can see why its a modern American Classic. Sometimes, though, it can be hard going reading about the dreary minutiae of mundane every day life, no matter how sparkling, skilled and slyly observed it may be. So the going has been slow, but there’s plenty of time for it to liven up yet.

Other than that I’ve read Scotland on Sunday Review section; enjoyed the guitly pleasure of a leisurely flick through Now magazine (the desperate baby-making machinatons of the Beckhams and the Cruises); a detailed instruction manual on how to properly fasten a waterproof and breathable membrane on a Scottish sarked roof; and the latest issue of Q magazine.

WHAT I’VE WATCHED.

This one’s easy, as there’s only one show in the Douglas household at the moment – season three of The Wire on DVD boxset. Simply brilliant. I’m rationing myself to just one episode per night – since I won’t be able to get hold of Season 4 on DVD for a couple of months, when it is released in the UK. Mind you, that very nice young man Craig McGill over at the Cluttered Desk has suggested he might be able to help out before then…

WHAT I’VE LISTENED TO

I got my bike out of cold storage and took it for a ride for the first time in several years. However, I couldn’t find my padded cycling shorts, so after two hours the saddle felt razor-esque. A selection of mixed 90s and naughties music (with a definite leaning towards guitar driven UK indy) helped keep my mind off the pain during the ride, particularly the final, unbelievably bumpy, few miles.

In the car I’ve spent the past few months listening almost exclusively to BBC Radio 5 Live - and this past week was no exception. I have developed a totally unexpected admiration for Nicky Campbell.  I used to think he was a smug, self-satisfied choob – but maybe that’s just on TV. He still looks a bit smarmy in his pic, which I’ve included at the top of the page, but I don’t want to hold that against him anymore, because I really like him on the breakfast show.

However, my current radio hero is 5 Live Drivetime presenter, the gleefully glum Peter Allen (pictured). Again, I’ve surprised myself with this because he’s got the kind of nasally voice that once would have annoyed the hell out of me. However he’s so quick, dry and sounds utterly doubtful of everything he’s told, without ever quite veering into the sneering territory of Paxman. Marvellous.

Alan Green on sport on John Pienaar on politics are the other standouts for me – but across the board the 5 Live crowd tick the boxes for me. I even find myself enjoying the cricket coverage these days for chrissakes!

When I can’t be bothered with the radio I’m currently rotating Amy Winehouse (Back to Black), Johnny Cash (American IV: The Man Comes Arounc) and The Fratellis (Costello Music).

WHAT I’VE SURFED

Daily - all the Scottish media blogs in my own blogroll. The BBC, The Scotsman, Allmediascotland.com.

I had an extensive trawl through the website of a property-related company which is considering taking on PR support and I spent a good deal of time yesterday and today on the websit of our client, Eagle Couriers.

I see a lot of the CBeebies website – any chance my daughter gets, she’s on it. And, of course, I spend a considerable amount of time randomly hopping around wordpress.com.

There you go. Now you know me, in less than 1500 words. Now that I’ve done my bit, it is over to you Steve Walker and David Connor

Why PR works: Number 3

I feel like a trainspotter. Which is odd, because I rarely travel on trains, have no interest in rolling stock and am indifferent about railway stations.

However, a week or so ago I posted on the £800m cost of the refurbishment, which has taken place at St Pancras station in London as the new home of the Eurostar service. A phenomenal amount of money to spend on a train station, which left me bristling indignantly.

Indeed, so offended was I that when I found myself in London at the weekend I had to to have a look and see exactly where all that wedge was spent. Most of the interior still under wraps. But the huge, curved steel roof canopy and the massive clock certainly look a bit special . That said, I was still astonished that sprucing up a railway station should cost so much.

When I first posted about this subject, what most amazed me was that until this got a mention on Radio Five Live I hadn’t heard so much as a peep about it, despite the enormous amounts of money involved.

A short time later, though, my better half announced that she’d just watched a rather impressive telly documentaray all about this very subject and was able to tell me all about the historical and engineering importance of the station. Muttering dismissively about London-centric TV programme-makers I buried mysef in a copy of (London-centric) industry bible, PR Week. Only to find a two page interview with – yes you’ve guessed it – the man who is responsible for the PR push at the refurbished station.

Simon Montauge, the head of comms at Eurostar sounds like a very nice bloke. What didn’t escape my attention though was that he has a 14-strong communications team as well as two big name PR agencies who have been working tirelessly for a long time on getting the message out.At first I considered their efforts a failure, since I’ve only heard of this project in the past fortnight and my indignation at the amount of money spent could hardly be considered a postiive reaction. That, however, is particularly harsh.

To recap, I’ve heard an extensive (and largely positve) report on BBC radio, read about it in my industry magazine PR Week (again very positive). Meanwhile, my missus caught a TV documentary (hugely positive) about the station and I made the time during my (once a decade) visit to London to have a look at the station. All of this in little over a week.

When I look at it like that it is clear the PR team are clearly doing something right. Yet, Nagging doubts are well named. They are doubts. That nag. And mine were still telling me that my perception of this station was, well, negative. However, even I had to admit defeat when the email below dropped into my mailbox from buildingtalk.com (all right, maybe I am an anorak):

Howard Chapman, Editor, writes: The Queen has opened a transformed St Pancras International Station, the new rail terminal for Eurostar that cost £800m. The front of the station, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic masterpiece, will open as a five-star hotel in 2009. St Pancras is today celebrated as one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture and engineering, but it could easily have been demolished in the 1960′s but for protests from the likes of poet laureate John Betjeman, co-founder of the Victorian Society. Developers have called it the jewel in the crown of a £5.8bn project to bring high-speed rail to the UK. When the Eurostar leaves for Paris on Wednesday it will also mark the completion a truly remarkable feat of engineering. There were 45 contractors involved in the project, building 109km of high speed track, 22km of twin bore tunnel, 3 major viaducts, 150 new bridges, 3,000 other structures designed and built. All this achieved in a little over 5 years, arriving bang on time and on budget!

D’oh. Suddenly I felt like the kind of narrow minded, anti-change, curmudgeonly kneejerk reactionist I’ve always disliked. How is it possible to keep hating this project in the face of all the positive PR messages I’ve been bombarded with? How was it possible to see only an old station getting a makeover, when the project is actaully 3000 projects – all delivered on time and on budget?

The answer – it isn’t possible. But I only realised this when I started seriously considering booking a trip to Paris on the Eurostar. A city I’ve never much fancied on mode of transport I don’t very much like. One of the stated aims of the new St Pancras station is to lure a further 40,000 Scots per year to use the Eurostar service – so they’ve only got 39,999 to go.

In some ways I feel a bit embarrassed by all of this. How could I fail to spot what was happening to me and yet still profess to be a PR and communciations specialist?

Easy. In fact, this entire episode has actually proved very refreshing, because it has reminded me that no matter how hardened, inured and cynical I become, I can still be surprised by the positive power of PR.

Simon Montague and team – notch that one up as a considerable success.