June, 2003

Greening The Green

June 26th, 2003 June 26th, 2003
Posted in Making the News
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Flying to Kerry couldn’t have been easier. That day dawned pale amber on paler grey and I turned up at the airport with my toothbrush and time to spare. Parking was a doddle and in a short space of time, my overnight bag and I were on our way. My plane touched down in Ireland bright and early and our group moved swiftly into the airport bar. My bag arrived in Paris shortly after and sat there with my change of undies, shirt and a clean T-shirt all doing very little. I think it was 10.30 when someone gave me my first Guinness. It was about half an hour later that they gave me my second and told me about the bag. The thing about drinking at that time in the morning is, well, what the hell. Itís only a bag.

Opening an airport terminal felt like it should be a big deal and, on one level, that’s how it struck me. Important, impressive. Band, here. Head of state, there. It was a full-on production. Yet on another level, the opening of Kerry’s new international terminal felt very intimate. We were ushered out to the front of the building to hear the Irish Prime Minister, Charles Haughey, and as I seemed to be the only person with an SLR, I found myself right at the front of the press pack taking pictures. My camera was in Mr Haughey’s face and there was no space behind me to back away. So it was Mr Haughey speaking, snap! Mr Haughey cutting ribbon, snap! Oo, lookóan aeroplane! Mountains! Cows! Snap snap snap! My head was buzzing from the early-morning Guinnesses and my enthusiasm exceeded my abilities but I carried on snapping until we were moved along to a white marquee.

Now, as marquees go, this one was a monster. Very large. Very very large indeed. It covered the whole car park and you could have hidden a three ring circus in there with room to spare. Perhaps they had. I could see the Prime Ministerís table somewhere near the vanishing points. Yes, when it came to big white tents, this was the daddy. But who were all these people inside? It looked as if the entire population of County Killarney had turned out. As I pondered the unlikelihood, a glass of champagne magically appeared in my hand and I sat down at an unfeasably long table next to a pearl-swathed elderly lady in the midst of this tented townfull of complete strangers. I raised my glass to my silver-haired dining companion. “This is nice, isn’t it?” I ventured. She smiled back and replied in a lilting Irish accent that it was, it was indeed. Very nice. Around me, the soft voices were creating a musical cadence and I was becoming lost in a sea of words and alcohol.

Alluring melodic voices seemed to be discussing all kinds of important things, yet when I listened, when I focused on their words, the conversations didnít seem to be about anything much. Around me people continued to remark how very nice it all was and how very nice, too, to see the Prime Minister, constantly refered to by his Gaelic title, An Taoiseach. Phoenetically, Taoiseach sounds like “Tea shock” so the first few times I heard someone say the word with an Eirish accent, I thought they were saying “T-shirt”. The day had started becoming bizarre, I was through the looking glass and I found I couldn’t think of anything to say while my brain made feebleminded word plays around T-shirts and Taoiseachs. It was raining a little. Would they have a wet Taoiseach competition? How could you judge such a thing?

In the midst of so many well-mannered men and women, these ridiculous thoughts somehow seemed exceptionally funny and I had the urge to giggle. I smiled a little at the old lady with the pearls but it just made things worse. I coughed, politely, to one side, then concentrated on immersing myself in the pleasure of fresh poached salmon while imbibing copious amounts of water. I concentrated really hard. Perhaps this salmon came from the famous lakes. Perhaps I could get a souvenir Taoiseach. Somehow I made it to the afternoon without opening my mouth and revealing my humour deficiencies for all to hear.

Lunch was followed by a coach trip around the lakes of Killarney, a guided tour around beautiful scenery given by a beautiful PR girl with a beautiful voice. The sun was shining. Everything was beautiful. I was in a Beetles movie. We were taking the Magical Mystery Tour and scenery swam past the windows. The bus rolled up at one of Eireís oldest pubs next to a sparkling clear lake and everything became more beautiful still, although I now had no idea what I was doing there and, as the sun shone brighter, I went down to look at the lake. Fish darted hither and thither between rocks in the crystal water and, despite the fact Iíd have no dry clothes to put on afterwards, going for a paddle faded lazily into my consciousness as a Good Idea. A beautiful idea. To be sure. Fortunately, after a quick pint, the PR girl had a Better Idea and the good sense to get us all back on the bus.

We meandered along narrow country lanes, passing two horse-drawn carts in a surreal slow motion which seemed completely natural. We meandered peacefully, gracefullyóas graceful as a coachload of half-cut journalists can beóon our way to the hotel, which despite its low-rise architecture, seemed anachronistically modern in its verdant hillside setting. It was mid afternoon when we got there and my bag still hadn’t turned up. Not impressive for an airline taking journalists on a publicity jolly, I reflected. We sat out on the patio, supping more Guinness and looking out across the lakes to the mountains of Killarney. Bag? Who needs a bag? I was drifting somewhere outside the real world, lost, oblivious. Nothing mattered.

Sitting out there on the patio, listening to the lilting Eirish accents discussing business, up and down, this and that, everything and nothing, and looking out at the magnificent view, I thought a little of my grandad leaving Cork to come to London for work so long ago. What was life like here when he grew up? Was it always this beautiful? My thoughts meandered like the coach trip earlier and I found myself wondering why the northern part of this emerald isle couldn’t somehow settle its differences and enjoy all this as good-hearted neighbours instead of feuding adversaries. I brought up the subject of the IRA and was allowed to continue my drunken rambling for maybe three or four minutes before the Irish journalist next to me suggested I drop it.

“Have you ever been to Northern Ireland?” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Well, you should shut up then because unless youíve experienced it first hand, you’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” In a sense he was right, of course, but it struck me as odd that people were exploding bombs in London presumably to get the British public’s attention and, by extension, my attention. What did they want my attention for? Did they have a proposition which the peoples of Britain and Ireland at least might be interested in hearing? No one would say. The economy of London was messed up by bomb threats once a month and the killing continued in NI but the British press only wrote it up in terms of terror, the BBC assumed we all knew everything and school history had conveniently glossed over the whole thing. No one ever explained the issues or the context to us, Joe Public.

To be honest, by that point in the day I couldn’t have comprehended the difference between Sheffield Wednesday and Shrove Tuesday, let alone grasped a complex political issue. My brain had opened an escape hatch in my head and bailed a couple of hours earlier. It was happily swimming in the lake, bathing in the cool clear water. I guess in the end, anything truly lovely can engender covetous hostility. People will fight over the right to enjoy beauty in their own ways and the Emerald Isle had oft seen the green monsters of jealousy. Right then and there, these were all moot points. First hand experience of the situation or not, I was in no state to discuss anything in depth and at about four in the afternoon, I did the wisest thing I could. I finished my pint and went to my room. In keeping with the rest of the dream sequence which my day had become, the room had a stunning view. Fields, lakes, mountains… Look! Sheep! I was feeling very fortunate. Blessed. These perceptions flickered briefly on my consciousness before the last vestige of rational thought absconded to join the swimming brain. I slept.

Sometime around 7pm, an insistent knock on the door brought me round. It was the fine PR girl, whose enchanting voice would no doubt bring men to blows at some point, come to tell me that my bag had arrived. It had been to France and then Belgium–or was it Spain? Maybe all three. It had finally arrived in this lush green paradise and the explanation of its adventures made no sense, although I listened as attentively as I could. No, I couldnít grasp abstract bag tourism at all so instead I grasped the bag itself and dug out my toothbrush. 7pm was a good time to get up and having clean teeth had moved to the top of my agenda. Ahh, clean teeth. Bleem bleem! I chewed a handful of peppermints for good measure. Half an hour before dinner. The bar was open once more so I did the decent thing and had another drink with the journos and Miss RyanAir. Dinner was sumptuous, the wine was great, the world was a blur. Sooner than I would have thought, I was back in bed, crashed out and sated.

Somehow I got back with the bag to Luton the next day safe and sound. I collected the car and thought briefly about dropping by the office to show my face, then decided it could wait. I’d see them on Monday. I went home and went to bed, to sleep the sleep of the just, or at least the just-about. Fortunately, I had a set of keys to the office, which meant I could go in over the weekend and write the feature up. I got it finished on the Sunday morning, when I had the peaceful luxury of an empty newsroom all to myself.

To be fair (and to be sure), it wasn’t a great piece of writing, but it wasn’t bad. To my mind, it just needed a little constructive criticism and some judicious sensitive editing. Thatís what I thought. Ralph thought different. I was all about cultivating while he was all about weeding. The journalist writes, the editor cuts, of course, but sometimes I wondered if he was the kind of gardener who was happiest weilding a flamethrower.

Monday. St Albans Observer’s esteemed editor was back from his latest trip to the Aegean. His lack of joy at being in the office as opposed to, say, on a Greek island was palpable. “Ralph, I’ve written a feature on Killarney.” He raised a bushy grey eyebrow, loaded with scepticism. “Oh? Why?” “Well, Ryan Air started flying there last week and I went on the inaugural flight.” “Luton’s not actually in our catchment area, nitwit.” “Yes, I know that. But it’s the airport. They’re the local airport for our readers.” “Ireland isn’t local either.” I was persistent, “People go on holiday there and everyone flies from Luton.” “Okay,” said Ralph, bored. “I’ll look at it later. Now if you could just key-in these letters…”

Ralph sat on the feature for several weeks, until it was well out of date. Then he cut out large chunks to fit a space where an advertiser had dropped out at the last minute. “God, Jefferies, this is turgid stuff,” he said, rather less constructively than I’d hoped. “Stick to what you’re good at.” Pause. “What are you good at?” Standard unfunny Ralph routine. Then he simply sliced it part way through to fit it into a corner of a page. “Any ideas for a headline?” asked the aging Welshman. “Um…” I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm, so he wrote, ‘Fly the shamrock flight to Ireland’, added my name and stuck it in the paper. Sans photos. I said it wasnít great, but I felt it deserved a little better treatment than that.

“Shame,” said Vince afterwards, dryly. Was he smiling? I couldn’t tell as he always seemed to be smirking about something these days. Not for him the drudgery of nearly two years in a printing department to get into his chosen field. He’d walked right in from university, and good on him but still. It was a bitter day. “No, really,” he added. “It’s a shame.” Well, yes, it was. However, I’d had a full days drinking in a fantastic setting, with great meals and a comfortable hotel room. Plus, not only had I not had to pay for anything, I’d also claimed expenses for driving to Luton and parking. As far as developing my feature-writing abilities went, this was nothing to write home about and another blow to my creative confidence. Yet, that aside, I did like the way Tim put it: I had had “a result”. Yes, definitely.

I was more green than I could possibly have imagined.

So It Was Written

June 24th, 2003 June 24th, 2003
Posted in Making the News
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It was once observed that Harvey Haynes was a man with an anecdote for every occasion. “It’s the same anecdote, but it’s for every occasion.” Ah, the wit and wisdom of Vincent Landon. Apparently in Switzerland now, science editor on Swiss Radio International, Vince was a superb travel writer–kept winning competitions with his features which took him all over the world. Sharp. Penetrating. All those steel-edged adjectives, he had an observation on everything when he chose to share them. And Harvey? Harvey was the St Albans Observer’s chief reporter and, it being Wednesday, Harvey was out of the office. Out to lunch.

Harvey’s skill at filling the paper with stories had less to do with sharpness and more to do with an extensive network of contacts. He had been gone since 10.30 that morning, although this was nothing unusual. Wednesday was press day and Mr Hayne’s regular routine was to bowl in at around 10.15, pick up a pile of papers, then shamble off with them under his arm, waving cheerily to Ralph. The editor would look briefly over his glasses in a pause from writing paperback reviews that no one much cared about let alone read. “I’m just taking these round to a few contacts,” our senior staff member would grin and with that he’d be gone. We’d be lucky if we saw him again before four o’clock. Or 4.30. We’d be lucky if we saw him again that day.

Wednesday is market day in ye ancient citie of St Albans and shoppers throng the streets, particularly elderly shoppers. Something about a bustling market brings old people out by the bus load and this Wednesday was no exception. Being a very tall man and no youth himself–rumour had it that he was a war correspondent at The Battle of Hastings–Harvey was clearly visible as his round head of scraggy silver hair bobbed Gandalfesque through the crowd, heading roughly in the direction of the council offices. His eyes twinkled and his nose burned slightly pink in the sun. It would be brighter in colour and often quite enlarged by the time we saw him again, but that would be more to do with several pints of London Pride than fresh air and solar radiation. His eyes would sparkle much more too, even if they couldn’t focus.

It was probably a mistake to leave Harvey in charge of an office full of trainees when Ralph went on holiday. Who knew? Tim and I certainly knew and I suspect Vince did too. We had seen Harvey evaporate into the fog of elderly faces, all stop-start stop-starting their quests for bargains under the bold-striped blue and yellow tarpaulins. We knew Harvey wouldn’t be back before The Jolly Sailor stopped serving him, so, to all intents and purposes, we were in charge. And we knew when the phone rang, we could make our own decisions.

Brrrrrnnng! “St Albans Observer, newsroom, hello?” “Yes, I want to complain about the story in today’s paper–the one where you said someone died after contracting meningitis. My daughter had very similar symptoms and I don’t think it’s right that you go around scaring people like this!” “Is there something wrong with the story?” “Well, yes. You shouldn’t be putting all that in the newspaper.” “Is it factually incorrect?” “I don’t know.” Hmmm. “Your daughter–has she been to a doctor?” “What?” “Has your daughter been to see a doctor?” “Well, no…” “But you just said she had symptoms similar to someone who died…” “Yes, and I don’t think you should be scaring people like this.” “Don’t you think she should see a doctor?” “What I want to know is who the bloody hell do you think you are?” “Well, I’m a reporter and I think you need a doctor. Goodbye!” Click.

Tim is across the office dealing with someone just slightly higher up the evolutionary ladder who’s calling to see if we can photograph a cheque presentation at their factory. A “grin and grip”. These are the bain of local newspapers. Zero imagination involved, an extremely dull photo opportunity and we get about five requests a week. Tim pulls a face at me and rolls his eyes. I make winding up gestures with my arm, indicating that his call has gone way beyond a timespan which could be considered reasonable. Tim slaps his forehead theatrically. Across from him, Vince has his feet up on the desk and is reading a book, oblivious.

The phone rings again. “Get that, will you?” says Vince imperiously, without stirring from his recumbent position. “You get it,” I retort. “I’m Busy,” he says in such complete contrast to the facts that the B capitalizes itself. The phone rings on and on until Kim in the advertising department picks it up and shouts across the office, exasperated: “Can someone in editorial please take this call?” “Yes!” I shout back, “Vince!” “No, put it through to Keith!” and before I can stop it, the phone on my desk is ringing again while Mr Landon sniggers smugly.

“Hello, news desk.” “Oh, hello. I wonder if you could help me. I’m calling from Ryan Air, we operate just up the road from you at Luton Airport, and we’re about to start running a service over to Kerry in Ireland. We were wondering if you might be able to send a reporter to cover our inaugural flight? The Irish Prime Minister will be opening Kerry Airport at the same time. It’s tomorrow.” “Oh. Oh. Hold on a moment” I put my hand over the mouthpiece and am just about to shout across the newsroom again when my brain clicks into gear. I take my hand away and smile. “Yes. That’s no problem. No problem at all. Where do they have to be and what time?” The nice lady on the end of the line gives me all the details and I dutifully copy them into my notebook. “Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, then.” And I hang up.

Vince glances up from his book. He knows he’s missed something but he isn’t sure what. It’s not attractive but I can’t help it; I smirk while I copy a few readers’ letters into the system using a nicotine-stained Apple IIe which was surely a graduation present for a younger Harvey Haynes. Or maybe not. Almost anything would be amusing at this point. “So?” says Vince. “Who was it?” “Oh, you know,” I say evasively, “Readers.” The smirk broadens into a full grin of badness. Tim’s phone call finishes too and he points out that it’s 11.30. “Shall we go to lunch?” “That would be best.” And so we do. But I don’t tell Vince who called.

Our lunch is two or three hours long but by the time we get back, there’s still no sign of our chief reporter. Nor is there by 4.30. Or five o’clock. Finally, at 5.45, a somewhat the worse-for-wear Harvey Haynes staggers back into the office, nose shining like a beacon on red alert and with a smile that threatens the safety of his jaw. “I’ve brought some sweets!” he declares loudly to the world in general and then flops heavily into a chair. “Would anybody like one?” He offers up an enormous bag which must weigh about two pounds full of mixed chocolates and toffees. “Thanks. By the way I won’t be in tomorrow. I’m doing a feature on Ryan Air and flying to Ireland. I’ll be back on Friday afternoon.” “Okay. No problem,” beams Harvey, without really comprehending. Vince mutters something around a mouthful of hard caramel. It sounds like, “Bastard.” Heh.

The Last Story

June 22nd, 2003 June 22nd, 2003
Posted in Making the News
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“You’re only as good as your last story,” quips Ralph, “and your last story was crap.”

Unreasonably yet evidently satisfied with his motivational speech for the day–the same speech he uses every day–the editor of St Albans and District Observer tips his chair down from two legs and resumes typing. Although it’s not so much typing as high-speed punching with two fingers–two fingers distorted by arthritis so much that they look like little trotters jabbing at the keyboard. Like it or not, Ralph’s typing conjures up an image of a pair of piggies dancing on spring loaded podiums. Sunlight streams in through the picture window behind as the editor clackity clacks through book reviews. Someone stifles a snort. It’s a magical moment.

Behind Ralph’s head, a greasy smudge on the wall reveals where his curly silver hair has rested through the years. If you look closely, you can see some wag has added spectacles to the stain indicating the high regard with which we hold Mr Slater.

“Ralph’s an old cunt,” Tim remarks to me when we go out at lunchtime. Tim is one of my fellow trainee journalists, fresh back from Hastings, bringing an injection of youthful energy and enthusiasm to a tired local newspaper. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. We’re only as good as it, after all. We’ve spent the past month coming up with the lamest puns possible to liven up the turgid reams of council minutes and police reports. Tim believed he’d excelled himself today with a reworking of a crime story which starts, “Bicycle owners were wheely upset when thieves stole their pedal-powered transport.” Ralph was not amused and gave us his standard lecture on such matters: “Wrong!” he declared, handing it back.

“Wheely upset,” chuckles Tim. “I still think that was funny.” Despite the fact that Tim is the champion of all things cool (he reads hip magazines, plays the drums and drives an MG with the sunroof down), we are obviously stuck in a rut. A symptom is that, despite what we say, we secretly think Ralph isn’t so bad. We recognise he has a great news sense, even if his page layouts are nothing to write leaders about. And he seems to have forgiven us for following him to the pub that time when he went out for lunch with his local council cronies. Yes, the time we sat in the corner going, “Dad! Dad! Why do you keep leaving us in the car when you come in here?” The councillors were amused. Ralph pulled faces and later got his revenge by taking us to play darts ad nauseum in The Pineapple, a drinking establishment with no redeeming features except its proximity to the office.

Darts aside, the main reason we know Ralph isn’t so bad is that, rain or shine, he lets us claim at least £40 expenses every week and signs them off. When your salary is £9,000 a year, those expenses make the difference between eating and monking. Monking, Tim’s term for living a life of deprivation. No beer, no cinema, and in extreme cases of the religious order, no big meals. Forty pounds a week. Much of our time is spent keying in press releases from companies the further away the better–“Trip to Bloggs Widgets open day in Redbourn, 12 miles at 34p/mile…”–and some of it is spent almost being a real journalist–“Accident victim story, 10 miles, roundtrip” but more usually “Angry residents up in arms, 8 miles”.

So, no. Given the limits of the role of a local newspaper–ie. mostly a lot of angry residents gossiping–Ralph isn’t so bad. He has his great news sense from having worked on a proper daily paper, the old Evening Echo, and he teaches us a lot. Press releases aside, he makes us leave the office as much as possible to meet people in person and talk to them face to face, which I know in my gut is the best way of communicating. It’s just there isn’t anyone else to take out our frustrations on. And, regardless of any groove we find there, it always turns into a rut. The rut of working on a local newspaper; the rut which saps our enthusiasm and drains our creativity for negligable reward. Yes, we are arrogant, but that doesn’t mean we’re talentless.

You can spend the whole day crafting a finely written feature only to have it hacked apart and turned into nonsense under a feeble headline or you can spend the time copying large chunks out of press releases, putting them into quotes and attributing the words to “a company spokesman”. It makes no difference; you get paid exactly the same and your self-esteem won’t be improved much by either process. Occasionally you might slip something through the net, something which you–your own worst critic–regard as a truly fine piece of writing, and then you can bask in the warm glow for a few days. Take Tim’s “Hell in copter” feature, for example, where he’d blagged a flying lesson and the witty prose flowed like decaff at an AA meeting. Occasionally you get lucky, but otherwise what? Ralph’s comment about our last story is true on ninety-nine days out of a hundred, so what’s next?

As luck would have it, I did have a plan. It wasn’t the most brilliant or original idea in the world. It’s a goal I shared with countless others around the planet. My road map to the goal more or less came straight out of a careers guide in the Manchester University Library. But it was still a plan. Two years previously, I had realised that the only thing which really interested me, the thing I spent all my spare time doing, was watching movies. And the best outlet for my creative drives would be to move into making films for myself. That helpful careers guide drew a path neatly from television production to film production. So how do you get into television production? Through research, said the guide. And into research? Local newspaper journalism. Aha. So that’s why I’m here.

Somehow I’d managed to get a job typesetting on the local paper and then convinced the group editor to take me on as a trainee journalist. Once I was on the inside, I also somehow convinced the arts editor at Watford Observer to let me review the films no one else wanted to see, shlock horror. Gems such as Phantasm II and Pet Semetary, which weren’t so much diamonds in the rough, as lumps of damp coal that had been heated with enough finance to become truly dreadful examples of the genre, burning dimly in the grate of the silver screen for a while before feebly flickering out, phhht. But I didn’t care about that. Because it was the silver screen which mattered. It was always magical. I was going to previews, getting a free beer and a sandwich and being paid to watch movies. And, what turned out to be more important, I then had to write about them, analytically.

I’d also been taking some film and television production courses on the side too and Tim, who never praised anything unless it was really outstanding, somehow remembered a short script I wrote, Cold Justice, a three minute ghost story set by the Thames. There we were, one Wednesday evening and we’ve gone down to the golf range to whack a hundred balls into the wilderness. It relieves many frustrations of dull hack writing to think of them as Malcolm Waller, the bald and bitter deputy of the Watford Observer. “No no no. You can’t write it like that.” Line up. Pull back. And swing… Thwack! Take that, Malcolm! You’ll never be editor! Off he sails into the distance, bald white glistening in the sun. Oh, yes. Very satisfying.

Then, as the conversation shifts to how we’re going to move forwards, for some reason or another, Tim remarks on Cold Justice. “You know,” says the captain of cool, “that was the best thing I’ve seen you write. You should do more.” Wow! Not only did Tim like it, but he remembered it. And that, someone else’s faith in my abilities, gives me all the confidence I need. It’s not about your last story, after all. It’s about your best story. And more, it’s about having someone recognise it and letting you know. Whether it really is my best story, I don’t know, but I do know for certain that that moment, that tiny lift to my confidence from my peer, is a turning point. Thwack! Take that. And this time, run with it.

My “Weekend”

June 21st, 2003 June 21st, 2003
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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You really want to hear about my faxing weekend? The one where I finally got a few days off faxing work to stop sending faxes on my nonexistent fax machine and chill out at home? Of course you do. Even if my weekends don’t happen on the weekend, it’s all a circus to you anyway, isn’t it? Fax show freak show, right here, right now. Get your tickets at the door. My front door.

I’m woken up at about thirty after noon on Friday, because my weekend started on Wednesday and what do you care anyway? They’re just days. Arbitrary. I’m woken up by some woman who is screaming, yeah, that’s right screaming, herself hoarse outside my window. Why? “We’re moving Zoe out,” I hear a man’s voice explaining. Zoe is my neighbour of, what? A year? Yes, around twelve months, tops. Screaming woman lets us all know how she feels about Zoe moving out. She wants to KILL HER. She want to chop her up into little pieces. Because, in true soap opera style, Zoe has slept with her husband.

Zoe’s brother is there, moving her out, and Zoe is nowhere to be seen. She’s hiding from the frothing harpie. Smart move. “I’ve told you where she is,” brother Grimm says. He shouts it quite loudly, in fact, because screaming woman seems to have some difficulty with volume. But Grimm doesn’t let himself get angry. “Yeah?” screams the woman. “YEAH? Well YOU should be defending her, shouldn’t you? You’re her BROTHER!” She jabs her finger dangerously close to the brother’s eye. He is one of six huge men, built like brick outhouses, moving all of Zoe’s belongings into a grey van which is blocking not just my driveway but five others as well.

That’s nice. Never mind if someone wants to do something other than watch the freaks in the street from their window, taking the car out is not an option. Thanks to a world where everything is provided and every whim is catered for all the “poor little me” people–the public, who have so many rights without responsibility that it’s a joke–thanks to this world, people’s selfishness, their whiney me-first you-never selfishness is on the increase. Especially when it comes to parking. If you can block several other people when you stop your vehicle, then who gives a flying one, eh?

Screaming woman could certainly care less. You’d have paid handsomely for a ticket to this circus today. “She’s nothing but a dirty slag,” she screams at the brother. “She slept with my husband and what are you going to do about it?” Logic clearly isn’t her strong suit but it doesn’t stop her flow. “You tell that ****ing ***re I’m gonna ****ing slice her up until little pieces, the c***! You tell her that!” Her twisted mouth is about two inches from the brother’s nose. Half the street has turned out to watch. Yeah, you’d have been there.

I have a grandstand view from both my kitchen and bathroom windows. Brother’s buddies continue loading the van. Seems no one has to work on a Friday round our way. Funny that. No one needs to work. Got plenty; don’t need to strive for more. Or, indeed, strive for anything. They’ve all got a roof over their heads, food on the table, electricity, water and television. Let’s not forget television, where they all learned to scream and swear and threaten death to each other in the street.

World going into recession? Manufacturing industry gone? Service industries moving to Calcutta? Who cares, as long as you’ve got enough drugs and the latest Playstation games, who cares? No one here. Why should they? They don’t need a job in one of the richest countries in the world. Muggins will provide. Muggins who pays the taxes. Riots at the international trade conventions. Riots protesting the sickening disparity in earnings between the haves and have-nots. Riots by people who have the time to riot. It’s hypocrisy, it’s paradox and it’s going to get worse.

Next time I look out, screaming woman has moved her circus down the street. Her sixteen year old niece sneers at Zoe’s now empty house as she walks past with her dog. As she does so, she mentions Zoe stole her 34 year old married boyfriend a while back. “Did she tell you?” says the girl, with dark rings around her eyes. “I was shagging him,” she tells my retired neighbour down the block, “He was mine but she shagged him anyway.” She swears and shrugs her slouched shoulders. “The new guy will be quieter,” child woman lets us know. “He’s a drug dealer. He’ll be quieter.”

Another neighbour remarks that Zoe had different men climbing in and out of the window at all hours of the day. Who cares? Although why they didn’t just use the front door has got to be a mystery, it’s not one I’m remotely interested in solving. The biggest mystery to me is how I’m going to sell my property when the neighbours behave like zoo animals. Guess I’ll be dropping the price by another five thousand at the end of this month.

While they ramble on at each other, I go back to watching Heaven, an impossible, tragic, beautiful moral dilemma with captivating Cate Blanchett on DVD. The camerawork is mesmerising as it lingers on people’s perfectly lit faces and the perfectly lit world they inhabit. I let the sounds and images carry me away from the world outside. For an hour. Two.

Meanwhile, fights break out between the sideshow onloookers who have now gathered into smaller groups. “You!” “No, you!” The noise moves away from my windows. The van moves away from my drive and then, like a fading whisper of a storm, it’s quiet again. Gary downstairs is outside in the sunshine, cleaning his motorbike for the millionth time this week. “You ‘ave to,” he says. “As soon as you take it aat, it just gets plastered. I got it up to a hundred and two this afternoon.” It’s wrong but in a way you can appreciate. Gary grins and I don’t see any flies stuck to his teeth, so it must be cool.

It’s five to seven now. I drive round to the post office sorting office which has a late collection and I drop off some videos for a guy composing music for my latest short. Then over to the bottle bank where everything is full to overflowing except green so they all go in green. Brownish green, clearish green. I’m not making a second trip. Cuff it. On to an editor buddy’s house to drop off some video for an actress friend’s showreel. He gives me a copy of Gollum’s MTV award speech which is the funniest thing I’ve seen for weeks. While I’m out, the police apparently arrested the screaming woman.

Reflecting, I can’t believe Zoe’s brother’s restraint in dealing with so much anger and abuse directed unjustly at him, as if he controls his sister. Amazing. I contemplate dropping another five thou off the price of my flat. The sooner I sell this place the better. I go back to watching the other DVD I’ve rented, Irreversible, and a man smashes another man’s face into a jellied pulp of bone and brains within ten minutes of this badly photographed neanderthal amorality. It turns my stomach so I switch it off and come here to write.

It’s the longest day of the year and the years are getting shorter. But it’s the weekends which do so many of us in.

Static

June 16th, 2003 June 16th, 2003
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I need inspiration…

It was as easy as using three fairly static establishing shots. And it was as difficult as remembering I didn’t actually shoot any. Doh. Yoda: “Unlearn you must.” However, there comes a point where too much ‘unlearning’ is a bad thing. Managed to cobble together some shots from what I had. Just.

Note to self: shoot static cutaways, hold on the end of action, etc etc etc.

Audio post productions starts on Thursday.

It’s Like This

June 15th, 2003 June 15th, 2003
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Friday comes. And goes. Simon has his answerphone on. Both times. One message. No return call. No final cut from him, then. No. It’s Saturday. Hell, I have an edit suite. I’ll finish cutting it myself. And I do. By Sunday morning, I have a cut I’m almost happy with. Almost. Lots of Simon’s sequences are in there, intact. Others I’ve cut tighter (oo, suits you, ma’am) to match. Just can’t get it to start.

I need inspiration. Editing inspiration. Need a good yet simple film to get a clue from. Maybe just need sound to carry an introspective long opening shot. Need something. Something. What? Don’t know. Just need. Where on earth do you get ‘editing inspiration’? Atom Films? I’ll look later. Maybe I should just go back to my original opening shot and ignore Simon’s changes.

For now, I colour the whole opening sepia and fade into colour over the title. Okay, it works but it seems forced. Want, need something more natural. I cut it up four shots in a load of one-second images and run them quickly in a five second, six second, eight second sequence. Flash flash flash flash flash. Headlamp / Charlie / Wheel / Charlie / Headlamp / Charlie etc. Nope. No good.

Call Simon again. Answering machine still on. He’s probably looked at the pick up shots and thrown up his hands in despair at my not providing a decent opening shot. Well who cares. It’s my film anyway. Mine all mine. Got. To. Finish. It. An ‘aha!’ moment comes: editing inspiration equals MTV. Got. To. Tune. In. And drop out. I love my MTV. Ridley Scott goes there, I seem to recall.

Nicholas Nickleby preview on Wednesday with Q&A by the DOP. Maybe that will help some.

Then Shove Some More

June 12th, 2003 June 12th, 2003
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I’ve digitised Simon’s VHS as one long clip and will slice it up into small chunks (165 of them), then replace each chunk with my original material.

Done. It took approximately three hours and involved a bit of slacking off during work time (surely not!). There are still some bits to clean up and a number of points I’ve marked where I want to change things around. That’s tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I wrote to the director of the short I really thought was brilliant the other night, The Least Of These, to say how much I enjoyed it, what I liked about it and to put my name on the mailing list if he ever makes DVDs. He wrote back to say ‘Thanks’ which I thought was really cool; good to make contact with someone whose more or less where you are and making things you think are cool.

Tonight’s film offerings at the same festival were not so good. It was all about use of sound (which was honourable) but the films they choose were mostly sucky. The first one was like 20 minutes of a computer game except that instead of playing, the camera flew around and looked at the walls. Oh, and if I never see another experimental film with shots of the sky through trees, it will be too soon.

Ironically, my first ever shot planned for my first ever short film (waaaay back when) was looking up at the night sky through barren winter branches before tilting down to reveal the actor walking by the Thames…

And Push Again

June 10th, 2003 June 10th, 2003
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Make that 165. That’s how many cuts there are in Simon’s version of the film, so that’s how many clips I have. So far I’ve got back 120 of them. Just 40 left to do before I can reconstruct his edit. Then I can compare it with mine and put in the best bits of both…

Except that it didn’t work.

For some reason, my clips didn’t match up with the clips in Simon’s edit at all. Three days later and I’m back to square one. Today I’ve digitised Simon’s VHS as one long clip and will slice it up into small chunks (165 of them), then replace each chunk with my original material.

Or maybe we can just export everything from Avid on to a firewire drive and create a Final Cut Pro project from that material. Then I go to the online editor (Perry) and he redigitises the material at full digibeta resolution and I have a film.

Clear? Good.

Why I Bother

June 9th, 2003 June 9th, 2003
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I saw this short film yesterday evening, The Least Of These, at a festival just up the road from St Albans, Filmstock. If you get a chance to see it, do. It’s one of those times when you realise someone has incredible talent and has pulled together an equally talented team to create something wonderful, heartwarming and really rather special.

Another outstanding short film of the weekend was Hang Time which is being distributed by Fox Searchlab. Without giving too much away, it’s about this strange guy who shows people how to fly in elevators. No dialog. Very funny. Catch it if you can. This link takes you to a five minute version, which doesn’t include the cinema end, but it’s still great.

And Push

June 9th, 2003 June 9th, 2003
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It means… that I have 100 clips and they are all showing black and silence

Make that 165. That’s how many cuts there are in Simon’s version of the film, so that’s how many clips I have. So far I’ve got back 120 of them. Just 40 left to do before I can reconstruct his edit. Then I can compare it with mine and put in the best bits of both. Then, at last, I can get back to the composer and audio post-production.

Phew.