When I draw back the curtains to reveal a dull grey south-east London on 1 January with the New Year’s Day concert live from the Musikverein in Vienna on in the background, it always feels like the start of something new, something exciting. I’ve got the opportunity for a new start. Everything from the previous year can, should and will be forgotten. At least that’s what I hope every 1 January.
In anticipation of that (and in a desperate bid to find something to write about two days before the end of 2008) I took myself off to our new hideaway and made a few notes. What were the things which I would remember 2008 for? Scribbling my answers down didn’t take long.
1. Jimmy Mizen
3. The BBC Proms
The list is both short and uncomfortable. The small handful of people who read this will, no doubt, note with interest the weird yet predictable juxtapositioning of a serious news event, alongside fundamentally inconsequential fluff and inevitable self-indulgence.
Truth is, I don’t have any other stuff on my list. Those three things really do sum-up 2008 for me.
Jimmy Mizen’s murder in May 2008 wasn’t the first teenage stabbing in east London this year. It was in fact the 13th.
There were 27 other teenage stabbings in East London this year. There have been plenty of others in previous years. Stabbings and murder and attacks were normally the stories which failed to grab my attention. So what makes 2008 so different from the rest?
Proximity was the most potent factor. Mizen died in Lee, an area in south-east London I often pass through on my way to the supermarket. Many people say it and a lot of us gloss over it, but it’s true when I say that 16 year old Mizen’s senseless death in the Lee bakery seemed all the more tragic because it was so painfully local. He worked there to get some extra cash. He was 16. The murder happened just a few miles away. That kind of thing isn’t meant to happen.
Get a grip. This is London, after all. Surely a stabbing shouldn’t really be that incongruous against the backdrop of a supposedly violent capital?
Mizen’s mother delivered a clear message to all, something which I had forgotten about until I viewed the video clip on this page. Now I watch it again I’m struck by her strength. Her message is unusually inspiring. She isn’t angry (or if she is she’s avoiding it spectacularly) and doesn’t want others to be angry with the perpetrator’s parents. She even goes as far as to say “leave them alone”. That is admirable. There’s much to be drawn from the strength she displays only seven days after the death of her 16 year old son, a week after his birthday. She is to be applauded.
Around about this time, I was mid-way through a project at work which I’d always wanted to work on.
I’d followed the Eurovision for years. I’d even gone to Latvia to do a spot of naiive investigation during the 2003 contest. I rather like the Eurovision, you see. And I’d quite like us to win.
As a result of finally getting a job at the Beeb in October of 2007 and (in precisely the right department) I shamelessly locked all of my self-promoting skills in gear and ended up working on the Eurovision website.
I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was plain sailing, or that everyone was necessarily as excited and relieved as I was to work on it. In retrospect, enthusiasm and passion isn’t necessarily something everyone applauds. One or two people hated me. There were one or two heated conversations/steaming arguments in corridors as a result of it. One fairly senior person accused me of being of a maverick as I stood in the corridor with a coffee in my hand. I was a little taken aback, to say the least. No-one has ever described me as a maverick before. Most deliver their assessment with an air of indifference.
I’d been working on the Eurovision site since late February. I delivered a smallish effort in early March (I did stamp my foot quite a few times) and following a series of false starts and one or two agonising nights failing to get to sleep, I ended up working on the main site during the run up to the main even in mid-May.
It was a hideous time.
A week before the Eurovision final (which happened to be the end of the Eurovision website project) I took myself off to Suffolk to see my parents. Work had become way too much for me to handle. I needed a break. I needed comfort food. I needed my teddy bear.
I was working harder than I’d worked in a long time (if ever there was a justification for the line “careful what you wish for” it was then) and it showed. My mother was quite worried about the colour of my skin. Now I come to look at the picture, I think she was right.
I drove up to Suffolk to see my Mum on Saturday 17 May 2008. The journey started in south-east London. I headed towards Kidbrooke roundabout for the Blackwall tunnel. Lining the roads on the South Circular close to where I live in Hither Green, south-east London people walking solemnly in the same direction, all of them dressed in black.
Where were they going? They were heading towards Jimmy Mizen’s memorial service in nearby Lee High Road.
The Eurovision came crashing to the ignominous end we’ve all grown accustomed to here in the UK around about 2am on Sunday 26 May 2008. It was then the website producer said “Yes, OK. We’ve got the finals scores up on the website. Everything’s done. We’re finished. Are you happy Jon?”
No. The answer was no. Not only had we come last but I’d had to code up a page which detailed exactly which country had come in which place. Typing the UK’s pitiful result last seemed like such a mean thing to have to do. Both of my friends who had accompanied me through the hell they knew it would be were now asleep on the sofa downstairs. The night was a right-off.
You’d think I’d have been happy to have finished something I’d always wanted to work on, wouldn’t you? You’ve done that Jon .. now sit back and feel proud.
The problem with me is that when I’ve been ridiculously busy for a couple of months, the resulting lack of something to do is the very worst thing for me. I start thinking when I don’t have enough to do and when I start thinking I start moaning. And when I start moaning everyone else around me starts thinking (and in some cases saying) “Would you be good enough to stop being so bloody morose about everything?”
It was Monday 27 May 2008 when I fired off an email to Radio 3 Interactive asking them if they were interested in some more Proms related videos.
With Eurovision 2008 a dim and distant memory, I was keen to look forward to the next big event and to see whether I might crowbar my way into that too. The response was favourable and despite one or two scary moments warranting enormous amounts of wine, charm and reassurances on my part, all turned out well. Everything turned out very well. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that it turned out to be the best summer ever.
You need to be aware of the people who made it the best summer ever – or at least those people who were involved need to know I’m thinking of them – them lovely people being Andi, David, Ashley, Dean, James, Roland, Roger, Simon and, of course, myself. It’s a team effort this.
Far from a hard-hitting news review, is it? It’s not meant to be. These are the things which, as 2008 draws to a close, are flagged up as the most important. I only hope that when 2009 draws to a close any review I might choose to do will see me feature considerably less, if not at all.
Happy New Year.
Oh, and in case you’re interested, the UK’s 2009 hunt for someone game and able to represent us in the forthcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow – Eurovision: Your Country Needs You – starts on Saturday 3 January (yes really, that soon). Or at least the first installment is the sort of “this is what we’ve done so far” programme before the main event begins the following week.