Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Leeds Bradford International Airport invited students from Leeds Trinity University College to take on the roles of the press for the training exercise.
The scenario, involving airport staff and emergency services from across West Yorkshire, was that passengers had become ill after white powder was discharged on a plane – sparking fears of a terrorist chemical attack and leading to an emergency landing.
10 Journalism students put LBIA’s press team through their paces, as all airport employees were required to respond to the practice – but no less tense – emergency situation on October 18, 2011.
Led by post-graduate Broadcast lecturer Richard Horsman, students from the Centre for Journalism arrived with TV cameras, radio flash mics and notebooks to demand information from the airport’s commercial and aviation development director Tony Hallwood.
Mr Hallwood explained: “The purpose of the exercise is to ensure that staff and external agencies are aware of the correct protocol and procedures in the unlikely event of an incident arising.” His role was to conduct press briefings, and he said he was grateful to the Trinity students for taking part.
“Their creativity and willing attitude certainly helped create a real life scenario,” he said.
As well as hounding Mr Hallwood with constant demands for updates, students set up a mock “Twitter” and blogging account to post their stories and updates. However all reporting was done in a secure area of the web, to prevent any confusion over the ‘rehearsal’ nature of the exercise!
Some adventurous future reporters also attempted to evade security and gain access to the actual scene of the ‘accident’, while others approached members of staff for direct quotes – especially when Mr Hallwood’s press releases failed to supply the necessary information any real news editor would be screaming for!
Level 5 Journalism student Megan Savage said: “I was so grateful to be offered the opportunity to take part in the airport emergency exercise. It was a great learning experience and it gave me a great insight into how press conferences work.”
Megan also advised others to take part in similar events: “I would recommend grabbing this opportunity with both hands – it would benefit any future Leeds Trinity journalists who are serious about making it in the industry.”
She said she found the unique experience very rewarding, helping her gain new skills and confidence.
This article was also published on the Journalism Department page of the Leeds Trinity website - available here
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
For anyone who was following my twitter feed today, you'll have seen quite a few tweets from #LTOpenDay as we did our best to keep a running commentary going. We even had a widescreen set up using TwitterFall to chart the hashtag's development (picture left), although I cannot confirm we started trending!
We also noted that out of all the other departments, student groups, faculty members, etcetera, we were the only contributors. I'm sure other hacks have observed that twitter seems to have a rather selective user-base, and I've often argued twitter's relative importance to journalism in terms of social media interaction, as against something like Facebook. But that's a discussion for another time.
As well as discussing our Journalism, Sports Journalism, and Journalism (Post-Graduate) programs with potential students and parents, the volunteers were using our brand new JVC HM100 cameras to conduct interviews. This way, we became more familiar with these advanced units, whilst demonstrating our technical resources to the milling punters - sorry, propsective admissions. On the right, Megan Savage is interviewing an interested party whilst Valerie Durussel operates the camera.
Sadly we neglected to record any footage so I can't bring you any journalistic 'baby pictures' of early ad-libbed interviews, but that's probably for the best. However, we tried to bridge the experience with other departments.
Here, Valerie is interviewing two of our Sports, Health and Nutrition students who are also drawing attention to our successful rugby team, whilst Sammy Parker handles camera duties, and Senior Lecturer Lindsay Eastwood producers, er, via her mobile. I've linked to some twitter accounts here, so that they can get their followers now before they become huge!
Our thanks then to the department staff who helped out, including Head of the Centre for Journalism Catherine O'Connor (left), as well as Post-Graduate Broadcast Programme Leader Richard Horsman, and Principal Lecturer Dean Naidoo to name just a few. We all hope that students and parents went away informed and enthusiastic about a place at Leeds Trinity University. On the whole, potential candidates for degrees seem confident in spite of the fees hike, willing to defer the worry of debt in favour of a career likely to be able to sustain it - and I for one am in full agreement. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a new era of co-operation between institutions and students that will redress the economic balance.
That's been my blog on the most recent Open Day at Leeds Trinity - until next time!
Monday, 10 October 2011
At the same time, Ofcom had followed in the footsteps of American colleagues in February this year, and permitted the practice of Product Placement in British programming. The relaxation of rules was not complete; various harmful products such as weaponry, alcohol, cigarettes and - er - baby milk cannot be shown, and the placement must be within the limits of 'editorial justification', or relevancy to the show.
Many of the opposition arguments mounted fell on stony ground - traditional, conservative groups like the Church of England argued that it might 'destroy trust in broadcasters', but the appearance of Stella Artois in an episode of Eastenders rather pales in importance beside the Leveson Inquiry on a scale of betrayed consumers' indignation.
Perhaps a discreet caption above the editorial - "This Paper Supports Product Placement". Or for the more conscientious (i.e. those with the most blatant recycled PR statements) a whole new byline as illustrated?
Monday, 3 October 2011
When the lecturer polled a room of about fifty students on who was interested in 'politics', about three hands went up. The disconnect from the byzantine and brutal struggles of Britain's political elite has never felt stronger than in a room with the future gamekeepers of the so-called 'Fourth Estate'.
Failing to engage the 16-24 age gap is either a crucial error of disenfranchisement or a cynical masterstroke by a political process that strives to focus power in the hands of the few, ensuring power is inherited down controlled lines. That's a cynical topic for another blogpost. The concern here is how to not only instill in students a respect for, and interest in, the maneuverings of our administration - but also to educate them against the unethical practices employed in Murdoch-dominated newsrooms.
The lecture was given by Catherine O'Connor, who is Head of the Centre for Journalism as well as lecturing on several modules, an NCTJ Examiner and a former print journalist and deputy editor on regional papers. The introduction was a quote from Lionel Barber's address to the Fulbright programme which described the "conspiracy of silence" colluded in by Scotland Yard, Downing Street and Wapping. What followed was a discussion of the PR-centric motivations of each power group, and why they either broke the law - or ignored those who were. The group was shown how a culture of permissiveness can exist, especially in the quasi-dictatorial proprietorship of News International.
It became clear that we were being shown the exacting nature of the newsroom, and the vague ethical lines it operates along, in the 'safety' of the lecture hall. Here, the green hacks of tomorrow can be introduced to the mechanics of newsgathering, editing, and producing, without being exposed to the clearly toxic moral code that has permeated much of modern British journalism.
More than that, was a clear hope that we would be the journalists operating with true transparency and impartiality. The closing statement of our lecture was a quote from Jeff Jarvis' article in the Guardian where he suggested that "Now, at last, is our opportunity to reverse that flow and to recapture our public sphere."
We might not be the generation that fights this battle against the monolithic News Corp - discussion of the Leveson Inquiry and regulatory framework comes next - but we could be the first journalists of the potential brave new media world.
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Saturday, 19 March 2011
The turn-out is really impressive - new waves of people sweep in every ten minutes or so, and we even snare a few unwary drinkers from the rest of the bar who had no idea the event was even on - but stay for a read all the same!
Leeds has some great independant artists, and I spoke to Geof, the man behind the deliciously naughty Fetishman webcomic that also does a lucrative trade in paperbacks of his smutty, satirical production.
"It makes sense to hold it on a Saturday, after lunch, because everyone's had the chance to wake up, get over their hangover, and come down." He added "Plus, it's being held in a pub. You can't go wrong!" We talked about how the city itself contributes to the creative element. He said "Leeds has a great balance to it; it's not so big that things become dissolute, and it's not so small that you end up with an insular scene." He's not wrong; the mood is one of delight, amusement, and excited discovery. Whilst it isn't in the same league as the immense Thought Bubble festival (back on 19-20th November 2011), it's a smaller more personal atmosphere and of course,
there's no door charge. And a bar flogging a variety of quality beers and decent grub.
If you've a free hour this afternoon, don't hesitate to pop in to have a look at the art and entertainment on offer for free - and sink a few pints as well. You can also follow tweets from the organisers account as well!
Friday, 4 March 2011
At 9:45am, I passed two squad cars parked outside, with a WPC on the radio, and an older civilian man on his mobile.
Returning today around 3:30pm, I found the riot van pictured left, with several uniformed officers in the downstairs lounge, visible through the front door.
Also noted was the large quanity of fresh soil dumped across the pavement and road directly outside the property. Sources in the area report local residents were known to sell cannabis.
Enquiries to the West Yorkshire Police Press Office and the Hyde Park Neighbourhood Policing Team have - as of 5:00pm - unveiled no information. I hope to return to this story once I hear from them again.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Monday, 28 February 2011
The event returns for 2011 and I will be blogging later today about Joanna Geary and Adam Westbrook who gave us an online-flavoured, rather opposite-themed assessment of the industry. Keep me tagged for further updates as the week proceeds!
Friday, 25 February 2011
Less amusing was the small but significant error made on the opposite page. In their Space Travel: Final Countdown graphic, detailing the last voyage of the shuttle Discovery, they included several famous spacecraft images - with the starship Enterprise included as a bit of light-hearted fun.
I'm cynical enough now that this type of forced humour just makes my skin crawl. However, as a Trek fan (not Trekkie, nobody uses the term after the nineties except jaded hacks), I noticed the artist had used a schematic of the USS Enterprise-B. That ship, under the command of Captain John Harriman, was launched in 2293 - or 1994 for us terrestrial viewers. Referring to Captain Kirk's 1966 maiden voyage indicates you wish to refer to the original USS Enterprise, as seen thirty years previously.
I understand that hordes of readers will roll their eyes, dismissing this nitpicking as the mark of the socially-inept fan. Who cares about distinguishing between pictures of made-up ships? The answer is - editors. They dislike getting letters of complaints, snide twitter messages, or blogs by fans pointing out their staff's mistakes. More importantly, it indicates a fallibility amongst the workforce that they've already had to apologise for on the opposite page!
Let's dig a little deeper into this error, and try and determine its cause, shall we? The first stop is that limitless boon to overworked, underappreciated journalists the world over; Google, and more importantly, its image search. A quick search of the term Enterprise unsurprisingly brings up a wealth of pictures from Star Trek. The very first picture is of Kirk's 1960s Enterprise, a curvaceous object that looks like some Habitat lamp. It's correct - but for the graphic in question, we need a schematic. Scroll down to the third page, and a perfect image shows up.
Never mind the fact that it says Enterprise-B at the top of the picture. Just rip out what you need, splatter a few lines of prose, and knock out another article. Job done. Except that it's blatant confirmation of all the criticisms that can be levelled at journalists - the laziness, the overuse of cliche, the lack of fact-checking.
What is even more disappointing is the evident attitude behind it. "Who'll care about the accuracy, except some spotty Trekkie anoraks?" Quite apart from the fact that it's a shocking attitude to take towards accuracy of any kind, it's also deplorable to pass judgement on someone else's interests like that. I can't recall the last time a train carriage full of drunk Star Trek fans assaulted anyone or destroyed any property, or the last time a Trek actor got paid fifty million pounds to kick a ball around for ninety minutes, cop off with another actor's wife, and drag the whole sordid mess through the tabloids.
Our harried hack signs off with a sly smile, mentioning the "countless bad catchphrases. Beam me up, Scotty..." With a sigh that could be heard on Vulcan, planet-wide hordes of fans will tiredly point out the line was never spoken in Star Trek, ever. So, the journalist's famous list of 'countless bad catchphrases' comes down to one - that was incorrect. So, zero, then.
Back to the countless bad cliches, Independent.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
The Third Doctor was stranded on Earth by the Time Lords, and became UNIT's Scientific Advisor, helping defend the planet against various alien invasions. Ironically, the Doctor and the Brigadier had a strained relationship at this time - the Doctor was frustrated by being denied his freedom to roam time and space, and being stranded on the comparatively-primitive Earth.
More time-travelling for our long-suffering officer occurs in legendar y multi-Doctor story
The Five Doctors (1983). Whilst attending a UNIT reunion, the retired Brigadier meets the Second Doctor - just as they are abducted through time and space to the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey. There adventures are underfoot as every incarnation of the Doctor is pitted against the safari-park of enemies the Time Lords have amassed - although the sadly departed William Hartnell is replaced by Richard Hurndell portraying the First Doctor, and Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker
Instead, first encounters between the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier would be described both in Gary Russell's Business Unusual (1997), one of the Past Doctor Adventures novels from BBC Books, and The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (2000) from the Big Finish Audios, who would count on both actors to produce many audio stories for years after the show concluded, and was rebooted in 2005.
Then, we moved into the closing days of Doctor Who, under the stewardship of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor. The stage is set for a final battle between UNIT and Mordred's Knights of King Arthur's era (or the BBC and John Nathan-Turner's Doctor Who!) in Battlefield (1989). The Seventh Doctor calls for the retired Lethbridge-Stewart to abandon his gardening and wife Doris (mentioned previously in Planet of the Spiders, 1974) and come to take command of UNIT, which he does - with transport of the Doctor's own, his famous roadster Bessie.
The battle would be fierce, although the Doctor successfully foiled the evil sorceress Morgaine at every turn. However, she eventually unleashed the extra-dimensional beast known as the Destroyer on our universe, confident that the pacifist Doctor would find it difficult in the extreme to kill the Destroyer. In his stead was Earth's most dedicated defender, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - who knocked out the Doctor so he could confront the Destroyer without distraction! Armed only with a single revolver, filled with silver bullets, he single-handedly saves Earth...bringing down an entire castle on his head. A distraught Doctor is mourning the loss of his oldest friend, until the hardy soldier recovers and flippantly dismisses the Time Lord's fears.
Battlefield is one of my personal favourite episodes. There are so many touching moments between the Doctor and the Brigadier, such as the line "Ah. Women. Not really my field." to which the Doctor responds "Don't worry Brigadier, people will be shooting at you soon."
When he confronts Morgaine the Sorceress, she describes Lethbridge-Stewart as "Steeped in blood" and threatens to kill the Brigadier the next time she sees him. Which she does, in two thousand years, when Sara Kingdom (played by Jean Marsh, actress behind Morgaine) murders Agent Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) in The Daleks Masterplan (1965)! It's that kind of circular story-telling and complex continuity that makes Classic Who absolutely engrossing...
That was the swansong for the Brigadier, the United Nations Taskforce and Doctor Who. Paul McGann's involvement as the Eighth Doctor in the abortive Doctor Who: The Enemy Within (1996) did not involve Nicholas Courtney. Nonetheless the Brigadier met the eighth incarnation of his old friend in the last Virgin New Adventure novel, Dying Days (1997) and the actors both co-operated on the Big Finish Audio Minuet in Hell (2001), sealing their relationship again. After the events of Dying Days, the Brigadier received a much-deserved promotion to General, but preferred to retain his older rank as a descriptive!
The Audios and Novels continued enthusiastically throughout this drought of televised Doctor Who adventures. By 2005 the show had been resurrected, with Christopher Eccleston portraying the Ninth Doctor. UNIT is mentioned and features in Aliens of London and World War Three (2005) but the Brigadier is not present. Probably for the best, as UNIT becomes even more cannon-fodder than it was in the show's previous incarnation.
Nicholas Courtney eventually returns to portray the Brigadier in 2008, but on Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, ironically reuniting him with another 1970s staple of Who action, Sarah-Jane Smith as played by Elisabeth Sladen! With thanks to Steve Goble who blogged about the particular episode in question - Enemy of the Bane (2008) - and included two photos that make a beautiful comparison between the two eras, and reproduced below.
On a sadder note, according to writer and producer Russell T Davies' book, Courtney was considered a late alternative to having current companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) feature in the episode instead, but who could not be made available. Whatever the motivation, this inclusion of the Brigadier was hugely beneficial, hopefully inspiring the Sarah Jane Adventures' young audience to find out more about this elderly but vigorous ally of their hero, and discovering the hugely entertaining UNIT adventures of their parents generation.
We will never discover if the Brigadier had any place in the Eleventh Doctor's world, as played by Matt Smith. His sudden passing a few days ago robbed a whole generation of fans the chance to see him for the first time - or return, for those of us with longer generations.
Critics will note I do not make much mention of the 'extended universe' of Doctor Who, which features a much wider selection of encounters between the Brigadier and the Time Lord. Due to the immense scope of these novels, audio dramas, comics, computer games, fan stories, etctera, I would be overwhelmed immediately. Nor would I confidently talk about Nicholas Courtney as the actor, who was reportedly an enthusiastic attendee at the many conventions - as I was sadly never able to meet the man personally. I will leave such recollections to those with the delightful, funny and inspiring anecdotes of meeting him, which I have read with real enjoyment over the past few days.
Instead, I've taken us on a lengthy trawl back through one of the most astounding histories of a supporting character, in one of the most popular - perhaps the most definitive - science fiction television shows ever. The Brigadier's longevity and inarguable popularity stems from his relationship with the audience. We must never forget that the Doctor is a mysterious alien being, dedicated to saving our world from its many dangers and enemies, but ultimately a man of another time and space entirely.
Lethbridge-Stewart is the everyman we can connect with, a mortal human who risks his life even more than the Doctor, and saves the day time and again. It is his face and presence that has remained unchanging for forty years whilst the Doctor comes and goes - it is his unflappable, steadfast nature that always offsets the Doctor's madcap schemes, it is his virtue and dedication that often rescues our titular hero from whatever scrape he's landed himself in this week.
There is some debate about whether or not the Brigadier constitutes a 'companion' in the show's convoluted sense of continuity. When you consider the grounds for what constitutes a companion - and Amy Pond's cast-iron reinforcement of every negative stereotype that has applied to 'the Doctor's woman' - I would say the Brigadier is about as far from the category as you can get.
And rightly so, too. There have been, and will be, many companions. There has been, and never will be again, one Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
With Thanks - The TARDIS Wiki, the Daily Mail website, the Internet Movie Database , and a whole host of blogs. No infringement intended, no hotlinking pre-meditated, please direct all queries to the Space-Time Telegraph!
Monday, 31 January 2011
Like Zen, the Force, or the offside rule, there's no straightforward answer, and more of it lies in a subconscious 'state of mind', plus a tendency towards black clothes regardless of the weather, and a preference for cider and black (and falling over afterwards).
Of slightly less tired-cliche nature, but still debated at length by men in their forties who haven't cut their hair since their twenties, is the 'origins' of Goth, quite how we ended up with some of the unspoken standards of the scene. Between the rock'n'roll excesses of the time and the tendency towards denial of some of the pioneers, nobody is quite sure.
One name that keeps coming up frequently is the Batcave, a London nightclub that tried to get away from the polished-pop tunes of the New Romantic movement in the eighties. A good history, including quotations, was written by Pete Scathe and indeed his website is a good attempt to track the drunken amble through history of the Goth scene.
The name 'Batcave' these days is generally a bracket-term to describe anything that came from those anarchic days of the early eighties, when there wasn't so much an alternative scene, as a general desire to rebel against the mainstream. Some of the most definitive bands of that first wave broke out at the time, and when a Goth mentions Batcave, you know they're talking about the original genesis.
Now that we've established these vague definitions, you can imagine the interest we had in a night called 'Return to the Batcave', organised within Leeds. The flyer promised a night of bands from the Batcave era and just beyond, the fabled Second Wave of bands including Leeds-based reluctant associates The Sisters of Mercy. Fronted by DJ Claire, former resident of Club Phonographique (the Leeds answer to Batcave), great things were expected of this unique promotion.
However, this wasn't the first time a Batcave event had been tried. In March 2010, a similar night was run - I missed it, and heard grumblings of discontent at the way it was run. I am, though, as well as being a Goth, a Journalist and determind to get at the truth of the matter - and hopefully have a good time along the way.
My suspicions were immediately aroused when we discovered it was being held in the Cockpit on a Saturday night - supposedly in a separate section to the usual club night Garage, a night playing all the terrible bastard offspring of the alternative sound, and the modern world.
Unfortunately, that separate section was merely the second bar, with the doors between 'our' room and the main floor open and allowing free flow of punters between.
You'll permit me to be judgemental here, mainly because it's my blog, but also because I endure undue judgement every time I step out of my door. I've been into Goth since the mid-nineties, and grudgingly accept that torrent of abuse both physical and mental that goes with dressing differently to whatever fad is passing through youth subculture.
My trips to nightclubs, therefore, are a chance to escape from the vacuous zombies who traipse into Jack Wills to wear whatever MTV tells them to. It's a sanctuary, a chance to have fun without the unwated judgements of complete strangers who every day feel obliged to hurl abuse at me because of the way I look.
I do not therefore want to share a bar, dancefloor and compromising public space with the very worst examples of drunken student scum who regularly clog our city centres and accident and emergency wards of a weekend.
It's a darkly amusing irony that as Goths, we are coldly polite and accepting of whatever jabbering thug meanders into our clubs, yet we would not survive ten minutes in some violence-wracked fleshmarket like Tiger Tiger or Oceana.
Violence is simply out of character in a Goth's psychological make-up, confrontation is something we - quite frankly - run from. In the wake of the Sophie Lancaster tragedy, we've become even more withdrawn from confrontation, and so the precious few people who'd actually turned up for the event braved the tides of squalling, inebriated idiots as best they could.
At one point, I spotted a sequin-topped girl approach the DJ. After she walked away with a confused expression, I had to find out more. Apparently, she'd asked for 'Super Furry Animals' or 'Pulp', and been baffled when the DJ explained it was a Goth night.
Perhaps nobody had explained this to the DJ either, though. Let me put some things straight - Metallica is not Goth. Placebo, desperately trying though they may be, are not Goth. Nine Inch Nails might be Goth by association, but certainly don't belong at a night supposedly dedicated to playing the best of the early eighties. Blondie might be in the right era, but is pretty much so far out of the Goth bracket you'd be hard pressed to see it.
And finally, playing these songs more than twice is the death-knell for any attempt at DJing. Couple that with mixing that sounded like a forty-year old Volvo crossing three lanes on the M62 backwards at seventy miles an hour, and you seriously consider asking for your money back.
But I mentioned earlier about how polite Goths are - we simply left, quietly furious at how out of pocket we were on a night that disappointed in every single way. If it wasn't for nights like Flock at the Library, you'd be hard pressed to think Leeds was ever part of the Goth scene, let alone a major hub.
let's hope the disaffected clubbers who turned up can come up with a suitable alternative...to the alternative.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011
We know a young couple like ourselves, Jenny and S
Steve, and we'd gone out together for drinks and food, an enjoyable first time combining two couples in a social event. However, after a heavy night of drinking in Wetherby with friends, Steve had gone missing. He'd now been gone without contact for forty-eight hours.
I celebrated anyway, and felt no guilt; quite apart from the fact that we knew no details, what could I do? The answer was solved on the Tuesday - the police were organising a search of the local area, and volunteers were called for. My girlfriend heard from Jenny first thing in the morning, and even as I was just coming to, she asked if we wanted to join them - there was no question.
We went to Wetherby, on the bus. A friendly, elderly gentleman passenger enquired as to our plans. "We're meeting friends" responded my girlfriend without hesitation, and we both hoisted polite masks. There was no question of involving this good-natured stranger in our duties, but it tinged my confused feelings with a darker sheen, of something unwanted, or forbidden.
The rendezvous was at the Police Station, and as we walked through the town, we expressed our admiration for this old-fashioned place - and each time, we both shared a paradoxical sense of guilt, that we should be brought to and be enjoying this place, when we were here for such a sober purpose.
There were a lot of volunteers, around thirty people - none of whom we know. We gave our details to the police, recording everyone who was joining the search. I stumbled over my address, giving a postcode for a place I left a year ago. Like any right-minded citizen, the mere presence of the police is intimidating - exactly as it should be. But I was already wrong-footed by the nature of the situation...
The officer taking my girlfriend's details himself stumbled; nobody I know spells Natasha with two 'E's, but he managed it. We laughed about it, quietly and nervously, as we massed in the old magistrates court for a briefing.
Another intimidating room, another reminder of the power of the law; other volunteers around us expressed concerns, hoping they'd never have to appear in a court-room. There were more chuckles, and I felt briefly outraged that people should joke at such a somber time...
But then, hadn't we? Weren't we keeping our worries and fears at bay with humour, such a natural human response?
Seconds before the briefing was due to begin, Jenny arrived and met us for the first time. Before my girlfriend could even stand up, Jenny was in her arms, sobbing. That was the first time the miasma of complex emotions around me solidified, and I felt a stab in the chest. Guilt rolled over me, followed by helplessness in the face of my friend's anguish, fear of what we might find, anger at the grim outlook...
"Thank you both so much for coming" Jenny whispered. We met eyes, and I nodded jerkily before dropping my gaze to the floor; the emotion in her eyes overwhelmed me. I'm not a man given to emotional displays, I prefer to keep myself guarded and controlled, and if I'd looked into her face much longer, my sympathy would have pulled me down.
She took a seat across the aisle, and my girlfriend laid her head on my shoulder. There weren't any words, what could be said? I put my arm around her shoulder, as a sold Yorkshireman of an officer stood up.
He thanked us for coming, explained the procedure, warned us of the dangers, and showed us where we'd be searching. We filed out, herded by uniformed officers, who stopped traffic to take us across major A-Roads, curious motorists gawping from windows as we clambered a fence and into the rich, muddy farmland surrounding Wetherby.
We were spread in a broad line, more than two hundred foot wide, each person ten feet from his partners either side. We would walk forwards slowly, searching the ground for 'evidence'. The police had said the first priority was finding Steve of course, but anything to indicate what had happened would be valuable.
It was at that point, in the briefing, when I began to suspect the police's privately-held outlook, that we were searching for clues to why Steve had died...
My girlfriend, a medical student, had observed earlier in the day that this would be the last day we could conceivably find Steve in a rescuable condition, but her voice held no conviction and I wondered who she was reassuring. I knew my own suspicions...
Seconds in to the search, and my hand went up. A mobile phone, damp and flashing a red light, dropped in the soil. Two officers clustered around it, advancing theories and suspicions...why was it covered with water? Did that indicate it had been rained on, perhaps left overnight...?
Minutes of tense waiting for an answer, and a female volunteer came down the line, stiff and awkward; she'd dropped the phone herself. Nerves all around relaxed minutely, and I swallowed a bilious mouthful of tension.
We searched all afternoon, crossing field after field, mud caking on our boots. Time and again my eye was drawn to some twinkling object; I knew we were looking for small personal possessions. Was that a pound coin? I bent down; a perfectly round, pound-shaped glass disc, dusty and churned up from the ploughed soil. Either side of me, people watched as I bent back up, eyes questioning; I shook my head, ashamed at my own mistake, and pushed forward.
You'll have seen it on the news, people crossing land in a broad line, searching. Except we only had a handful of officers with us, five or six, spaced along the line to respond to finds.
Beside me to the right, a family - father, mother, daughter - walked closely together, continuing banal stories about friends and relatives. I flickered with annoyance, three people covering the same space as one, barely concentrating. Had they erected psychological barriers against the solemn nature of our work? Were they well-intentioned but useless volunteers, bereft of the grasp of duty, floundering in pursuit of our goal? Perhaps. But if I spent my time concentrating and berating them silently, I was far from carrying out my own task. I returned to scanning the ground.
By the third field, my suspicions were promoted; we were searchin newly planted, wide fields, where any large object would have been easily spotted. We were off the course Steve could have been expected to take, as he was leaving Wetherby for home, his last known position was across the A1 to our left - he'd never be in these fields.
Twenty minute before daylight ended, we crossed the A1 to begin our trek back to town; we'd probably travelled two miles, searching eight fields minutely. I expressed my suspicions to my girlfriend; we were searching areas outside the likely location of Steve's position. Untrained, unreliable volunteers could be psychologically assuaged, and at the same time cover a zone not expected to produce results, freeing official search parties to try the river and other dangerous regions most likely to contain possibly alarming finds...
Thanks were handed out freely by police, we'd excelled, we'd saved search parties much time and effort, knowing this region was already checked. We parted as swiftly as we'd met, and Jenny had left; she was not involved in the search, a decision we could all agree with, lovers should not find each other in this case...
My girlfriend and I took the bus back, exhausted physically and mentally. Bereft of a result, unwilling to face suspicions we couldn't confirm, we retreated into music, two people beside each other on a bus, headphones in, eyes staring without seeing. I don't believe we've held hands for that long before though...
Today is the nineteenth, and Steve has been missing since the sixteenth. At a quarter to twelve, my girlfriend rang. It's surprising what can be conveyed without words, even across a telephone call. There was silence, then a deep sigh backed with tears. I said "Oh.", and felt a hollowness creep into my chest.
I was at hers by five past, and we held each other silently in the kitchen. She'd cried out her tears by then, and I'm not given to upset...especially when I feel this confused.
All I know is that he has been found, as we all feared he would be, beyond help. As little as I know about how he was lost, is as little as I know about my feelings. Steve occupied a strange point in my world, more than a stranger or friend of a friend, not yet a close mate - but on the way to be. I'd seen him at Jenny's birthday, just before Christmas. We shook hands, discussed a popular computer game - I gave him some pointers, he thanked me profusely for advancing him past a tricky part. We made plans to go for another dinner with our girlfriends, discussed good bars and restaurants, I told him I'd be celebrating my birthday with a party in January...
That amiable man with a sense of humour so like my own, who'd sat opposite me in a bar and roared at my jokes and rapped out some choice one-liners of his own, would not be any better known. I'd never know what he was hoping to do with his career, if he and Jenny would be moving in, if we'd enjoy any other outings as a couple.
My girlfriend is visiting Jenny this afternoon; I mulled the matter over silently at hers, then asked if she wanted my company. She considered it, then decided that I should give Jenny some space, and...as a boyfriend, my presence might only make things worse.
I've never confronted the concept that merely being present, when you want to convey sympathy, friendship and comfort, could be even worse than not attending. My friend would benefit more from me not being there. I accept it logically, but emotionally - how do you reconcile that thought? It makes sense, but I cannot say I like it.
I must make sense of my feelings. Writing this blog has helped, and if you've read through it, you have my thanks.
Sunday, 9 January 2011
It used to be an anecdote accepted as fact that the older the generation, the lower their affinity for technology. It certainly works in the other direction; my six year old cousin has become more adept at Call of Duty – the immensely popular video game – than I ever could, and I've been playing games religiously for the entirety of his young life! Yet he still runs circles around me.
Imagine my surprise then, when my girlfriend's mother arrived home with a new mobile phone. It was one of the new touch-screen, iPhone-clone models that are an affordable alternative to Steve Job's latest masterpiece. Now, I've been playing with my Galaxy for several months, getting used to its features and even writing a review of it, where I loftily praised its merits, dismissing its weak battery life as one of its rare failings.
So, I confidently took on the challenge of setting up my in-law's telephone. As in any new scenario, you search for landmarks, and having adjusted so well to my own mobile, I was immediately at sea. It seems like the manufacturers, so aware of the similarities between their progeny and the iFruit market overlord, have designed the systems within their phone to diverge so violently from each other so as to distinguish their individuality.
I mean, I classed it a small victory when I finally reached the text messaging screen. However, it was here my so-called 'superior technical knowledge' fell down; I take pride in never using the predictive text features, so when I was asked if I could turn it on, I wasn't even able to tell if it was turned off. The controls on my own telephone were so totally different, I could barely make sense of it.
That was just the beginning. Each question either led to me weakly explaining the theory behind a feature (whilst having no knowledge of how it was activated) or a simple “I don't know.” Then, she spotted the Bluetooth feature – which I'd introduced her to barely six days before – and promptly made a shortcut on her home screen. It took me a week to understand how to do that on my own mobile!
I have my own theory about how I was so wrong-footed. We're the generation that is the first to enjoy instant access, immediate downloads, prompt affinity with the technology we're inventing as we go along. Within seconds, you grasp the basic mechanics of operating a device, and via trial and error you quickly establish the methods to get the results.
My girlfriend's mother is of the generation preceding. For them, the most archaic of technology was accompanied by instruction manuals the size of a phone book. I used to play with an Amstrad 64K 'computer', and the BASIC programming book that came with it was thicker than most of my textbooks from school. That is a symbol of our developing technological awareness, that the children of my generation had increasingly reduced attention spans, which was paralleled by the reduction in size of technology, and the reduction in waiting time for results from your machine.
However, the split-second reactions of my age group (and even more so my six-year old assassin of a cousin) have, I believe, led us into an awareness cul-de-sac. My subconscious affinity with my mobile, netbook, PC, have been honed to a fine edge with that relevant device. Try and introduce those unconscious instincts to a new machine, a new procedure, and I must consciously make an effort to learn how to operate them. But I'm of the generation that doesn't consciously learn anything anymore! Contrast that with my mother-in-law, supposedly of a generation forgotten by technology, that has spent a lifetime studiously rehearsing achingly-complex instructions for computers that barely lasted a decade.
They've practised the skills they learnt that we thought were simply inherited, they can learn the procedures we thought we could gain by osmosis. The only restraint is the lack of confidence with new technology, instilled by the arrogant dictation of their supposedly more aware descendants.
Don't be guilty of technological discrimination; consider the abilities of everyone before buying in to the stereotype!
Thursday, 6 January 2011
In a move that will probably become a landmark event for the Blogger's Age, an anonymous Guardian columnist is leaving the direction of his so-far wayward love life in the hands of his readers.
As a struggling Journalism undergraduate my first thought was admiration of the scale of originality being displayed to snag a regular column position. Credit me for my cold-eyed professionalism anyway.
My second thought was a bizarre stab of sympathy; I've suffered myself from an unsteady path through the world of relationships. I'm only just reconciled with my long-term girlfriend, and during the challenging times I usually went on bitter, sullen retreat from the whole world.
So perhaps our unlucky friend has decided to turn his personal woes into public entertainment; not a world removed from Endemol's Big Brother format, thankfully moribund after years of increasing reminders of the poor state of, well, poor Britain.
It's not clear if the author is a journalist; as a student hack, I am beaten regularly about the head with tales of level-headed objectivity and this seems to be a step beyond the docile diarised tales of staple column-writing.
Of greater concern is the responsibility the author is shedding for himself, his happiness and – of keener observation – his partner, the inevitably renamed 'Hayley'. Either he has told her of his plan to conduct his personal relations like a social experiment, which would be the death-knell of any relationship; or he hasn't, and she's labouring under misconceptions that will either lead to their parting, or her participating in a bizarre performance co-ordinated by silly names on the Guardian website. Neither outcome hints at future stability.
More importantly, we – and he – should be aware of the impact of the internet, like some omnipotent toddler, wielding a massive influence online with an immensely inverse sense of responsibility. Should the masses vote for a break with the erstwhile Haley, what guarantee the Author will even meet another woman in time for next week's thrilling instalment? Come the anarchists of the internet, his every chance at intimacy could be thwarted for the online equivalent of the child who pulls wings off flies.
Speaking of silly names, Twitter has yet to pass judgement on this journalistic experiment. Twitter, I rather grandiosely think, represents the high-water mark of intelligence on the web, currently unfathomable to the trolls and weirdos of Facebook or Youtube. Their commentary, and crucially their disclosure of involvement in the voting, will be a telling analysis of this tiny feat of social engineering. Of even more value to the social commentators of our age, how the fickle consumers of the web decide to dictate the author's private life will be a fascinating insight into the flexible morality of the digital age. I hope to comment on both as the scenario develops...