I'm back..and so's the blog.
All last week I was away at the NUJ's Annual Delegate Meeting in Belfast - and I'd planned to update the blog as I went along. But ADM brings a whole new meaning to 24/7 working and I never got around to it.
So here's a quick round up of the last week.
I'm terrified of flying (I failed my Physics O Level and still can't get my head round the science of how a large piece of metal stays up in the air) so flying in to Belfast on the windiest day of the year with a small child repeating ad nauseum that we were landing in the sea wasn't my idea of fun.
Having arrived safe and sound I get to the hotel - the most bombed hotel in Europe and someone's given me room 911. Is someone trying to tell me something?
I get down to writing. I've 14 speeches to make over the next three days, including the opening speech to conference and ones on trade union rights, freedom of information, the Guardian/Observer agreement and the union's finances.
Wednesday is taken up with the National Executive Council meeting which has to go through all 150-odd motions taking an attitude to support or oppose and nominating speakers to put the Executive's case. I'm given the Israel/Palestine motion. Oh, thanks.
Thursday morning the Executive meets again and then it's sector conferences in the afternoon. I also go and talk to the student conference, using preliminary results from our survey of work experience to show just why it is important young journalists are members of the union and what we are doing to address issues that matter to them. It's also a slightly bizarre experience - several of them are wearing grey suits whilst I'm in jeans and battered Converse trainers. Stereotypes are well and truly done away with.
Thursday night we host an event with the Sunday World at the Linen Hall Library - a fantastic venue - in honour of NUJ officer and Sunday World reporter Martin O'Hagan who was murdered in the city 7 years ago. I make a short speech calling for more action to ensure Martin's killers are brought to justice. I also briefly address the Campaign against Climate Change fringe meeting.
Friday morning and it's all go. Our President Michelle Stanistreet has flown back to London to join the Express picket line so I step in to greet the Mayor of Belfast and pose for the official photos. I hate this bit of the job!
9am and the conference is off. A few mea culpas - the index numbering in the rule book is wrong and we're away. 9.15am time for the speech. 39 minutes later I'm done having covered much of the work of the union over the past year and looked forward to the next twelve months. I must find out who won the staff sweepstake on how long I'd speak which is an annual event!
Then it's down to business. The motions come thick and fast. Plans to change the size of conference go down as an attack on democracy. No surprise there. Motions on recruitment get the thumbs up including a strong commitment to put more resources in to recruitment in new areas including professional bloggers.
Debates over the coverage of suicide and children open up the ethics debate. The steam has been taken out of the first potentially tricky debate on setting up a pensioners organisation both by the NEC admitting they giot it wrong and by an amendment which gives the NEC control of setting the budget for any new pensioners organisation. There's a some grandstanding but everyone seems happy enough at the outcome.
Next up its the criticism of China's human rights and media freedom record which kicks of the international section and now I'm up on Israel/Palestine. As the argument over last year's boycott motion is taken up between the pro and anti camps it's up to me to try and get conference to unite around the NEC position - and move on. I do and the NEC amendments is overwhelmingly passed which commits the union to "no further action in implementing the boycott call" and moves us on to providing support to journalists and trade unionists to defend workers' rights and media freedoms in the region. Quick check of the blogs and websites afterwards. We seem to have avoided another row this year. Job done.
John McDonnell MP, as secretary of our Parliamentary Group gives us his annual report. It's odd - for a conference which is sceptical of all politicians they always really take to John and he sets out the issues facing us all - particularly in our case the attack on public service broadcasting. I join John at a Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting at the lunch break.
President Michelle Stanistreet is back from the picket line and wins a standing ovation as she addresses conference - hitting out at all those like Richard Desmond who cut resources and undermine journalism solely in the pursuit of greater profits. She demonstrates just how much work she has done in the past year taking us ion a tour of chapels and branches she has met up with - and giving an overview of the Stand up for Journalism campaign which she led from the front.
Guest speakers from the newly founded Colombian Federation of Journalists get a standing ovation and thank the union for its work in helping them to establish themselves. Friday night I have dinner with the union's officials and our solicitors Thompsons.
Saturday starts with debates over our Stand up for Journalism campaign and union organisation. Motions calling for more actions around SUFJ are passed. A motion to make NEC elections every two years instead of one is passed, one to cut the size of the NEC is lost. The report of the Commission on Multi-media Working is endorsed and a call to fight to protect workplace pensions is unanimously backed.
The agreement at the Drogheda Independent caused controversy in parts of the union last year - and now there are motions calling on members of the NEC who backed the motion to resign. In the end only one delegate votes for it - and the debate on the wider agreement, whilst heated, is conducted in a good spirit. The motions condemning the agreement are soundly defeated.
We stand for a minute's silence and pay tribute to Steve Sinnott, my opposite number at the National Union of Teachers and a fellow member of the TUC General Council who so tragically died earlier in the day at the age of 56.
After lunch comes the moment we've all been waiting for. Last year's conference was dominated by fears over the safety of Alan Johnston. It's no exaggeration to say we feared we'd never see him again. But here he is. Sat next to me on the platform waiting to address our conference - and next to him Naim Tobassi, President of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate who did so much to help secure Alan's release.
Naim addresses conference and is enthusiastically received - pledging to build stronger links to campaign with us for media freedom and the rights of journalists all over the world.
Alan Johnston is up next. The hall is as silent as it could possibly be. As he takes us through his captivity, thanks the union for its work, talks about the other journalists still in captivity around the world there's barely a dry eye in the house. He gets more than one standing ovation. There's another as him and Naim Tobassi embrace on stage and hold each other's arms aloft. That was powerful.
But no time to rest. It's back to business and motions on media freedom, broadcasting issues, particularly committing ourselves to fight any proposals to top slice the licence fee, and copyright. I deal with motions covering the Guardian/Observer multi-platform working which i was involved in negotiating last year and protection of sources and the FOIA. Saturday evening I address the Media Workers Against the War fringe meeting with Eamon McCann who is as entertaining and powerful as ever.
Saturday night is the big party night - with the traditional sketch show. I'm cajoled in to doing a spoof The Apprentice where I get to fire lots of candidates for Deputy General Secretary. I used to avoid these like the plague but I've worked out if you're in it it's usually less cruel than if it's about you. Usually!
The Belfast Telegraph has covered my speech yesterday picking up on my challenge to the First Minister Dr Ian Paisley to stop undermining the Freedom of Information Act. The Sunday World has covered our tribute to Martin O'Hagan and the BBC covered both the Express strike and our complaints about disabled access at the hotel. All in all media coverage has been good.
Sunday morning is always a struggle. I heard someone complaining they'd shut the bar at 6am! But 9am and the hall is fuller than normal as I speak on trade union rights and then comes the debates on equality and training. Motions which had fallen off the agenda previously, including a call for a photographers' organiser (defeated) are dealt with before business ends.
Conference closes on a high. Deputy General Secretary John Fray who is retiring at the end of May is given a huge standing ovation and bids a tearful farewell to conference. Thanks go to our conference organiser Debbie Smith and all the staff who help her make sure everything runs smoothly, to our outgoing President Michelle Stanistreet who has been amazing and welcomes to our incoming President James Doherty and his new vice-president Pete Murray.
It's been a hell of a week - inspiring, passionate, focused, tiring but fun too. I could sleep for a week but I can't. Today I'm meeting Shiv Malik to talk about his case.