Mumbai on the move

One look at my diary this morning – it’s only recently I’ve got in to the habit of using my Outlook calendar – and the prospect of four meetings in the space of five hours made it almost a guarantee I’d find it difficult to keep on top of what was going on in Mumbai.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to follow everything. It was almost as though I wanted someone standing next to me the whole day giving me an update on what was going on each and every moment.

What was my motivation exactly? I kept asking myself the same question all day long. Twelve hours later I’m still not entirely sure why.

Was it a mawkish fascination with the emerging story coming out of India ? Was it a genuine interest in news – one which has surfaced over the past couple of days as a result of work ? Was I really a news junkie who was coming to terms with what had formerly seemed like an underlying interest in news ? Or was I, in fact, feeling the effects of the social networking tools such as Twitter or Facebook, getting the news from the web and responding to events on a minute by minute basis?

Shortly after my first meeting just off Shepherds Bush, I retrieved my mobile from my coat pocket. Compared to the difficulties I’d experienced connecting to the internet with my laptop, my mobile was considerably more reliable.

I stumbled on a live update page on the BBC website. I bookmarked it. I was hooked the entire afternoon.

There are obvious caveats which need to be spelled out here. I work there and on that basis I’m biassed. I’m bound to go to the employer for the news. But, for the rest of the day I wanted to keep checking in, checking to see what had happened, what had developed, if the death count had risen, if things had subsided. I wanted things to wind down. I wanted it to be over. I wanted people to be safe.

What transpired – as a consumer of news – was that this particular event was expanding. This made it an unsual experience. Far away in what feels like a distant land, we weren’t learning about what had occurred, but through minute by minute updates we read about a constantly unfolding series of events. It felt like I was there. It felt like this was a battle, or a war. It felt like it has happening just down the road. It felt real.

Looking back on today I can say with certainty that this bizarre method of retrieving news on events shifted focus. Today was about Mumbai, about India, about innocence gunned down, about anger and pain.

As the fast train from London Charing Cross pulled into Hither Green station, I switched on the six o’clock bulletin on the radio, keen to get some kind of summary of events.

I got the snapshot I was looking for and a bit more. British eyewitnesses were returning home.

One man explained how he had barricaded himself in his hotel room, switched off the lights and kept quiet until the worst of it was over. What had begun as a brisk walk from platform six to the ticket hall slowed to a sombre pace.

Here was someone from the UK – completely unknown to me – recalling the experiences he had in a country that felt like it was far, far away in such a way that I felt immediately protective and defensive for him and all those who had suffered like him.

It was an incredible day for an outsider like me and, no doubt, something a whole lot worse for those who experienced it first hand.

If I truly am a news junkie then I hold my hands up in shame. Don’t – please – feel bad of me if that is the case.

Personally, I prefer to think of myself of a normal human being, horrified by what feels like totally unexpected and at times surreal events.

But if there’s one thing I’m certain of after the past couple of days it’s this: my susceptibility to such harrowing events precludes me from ever being a journalist.

Mumbai on the tube

Front page of the Times, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

The most striking newspaper image I’ve seen in a long time adorned the copy of The Times I scrounged from the lady sat opposite me on the tube this morning.

In fairness she had finished browsing the paper when I carefully removed my headphones, leant forward and asked, “Excuse me, could I possibly borrow the newspaper if you’ve finished with it?” She seemed happy to oblige and blissfully unaware of the news from India.

I didn’t want to read about the shootings in Mumbai. I didn’t know very much about what had happened. I’d stumbled on the breaking news by watching the news live on the internet the night before. I’d seen looped shots of a burning hotel in Mumbai. I’d heard about 80 or so people having died, seen a clip where someone had said “they seemed to be asking for people with American or British passports.”  I’d scrambled to find what facts were available on the internet and quickly followed up with a handful of texts to friends whose friends and associates were based in Mumbai.

All were safe. That was the extent of my research.

This morning, however, trundling to work on the tube my gaze landed on the front cover of The Times. Something about the front page drew my eye. I looked more closely and soon found myself looking at the lady holding the paper, a large and the extremely approachable looking black woman complete with impeccably applied make-up and an adorable hat. I watched as she passed over every page.

I found it almost impossible to stop looking at the front page of the newspaper. Was it a policeman or a soldier leading an elderly looking woman across a blood splattered floor? I couldn’t tell. Where was that? Why were the bags left that way? Did someone really get shot there? Is that really how much blood can come out of a human body when a bullet rips through it?

It all looks so quiet. It all looks so final. India looks so damaged.

Richard Hickox

Richard Hickox

In the relatively small world of the classical music world, the untimely death of conductor Richard Hickox has taken everyone by surprise.

I can’t claim to know him. The only link I have with him is an interview I attended to work for the City of London Sinfonia in the summer of 1991. I didn’t get it.

That’s what we all do when we scrabble around to justify the sadness us bunch of classical music fans feel when a member of the club suddenly drops off the radar.

What are you thinking? Where are you going? You’ve got years in you yet.

What I’ve been touched by is to what extent I start checking to see who’s heard and who hasn’t. I messaged a mate at work to see if he’d heard. Checked in on Facebook to see a journalist I knew of old had registered the same level of surprise. Only this evening I made a point of trotting over to Tommy Pearson’s One More Take. They all said the same. They were all feeling really rather surprised.

It came as a surprise the man was 60. It was a shock to discover he died of a heart attack. It was somehow unnerving and reassuring all at the same time to discover he died only a few hours after doing a recording session of Holst’s Choral Symphony in Cardiff. If you’re going to go, surely the best way is to take your bow and run off the stage in a flash.

Worse than that is the sad truth it’s only in the event of someone’s death that I begin to learn what they achieved in his or her life.

Hickox was one of our stars. He founded the City of London Sinfonia in 1971 at the tender age of 23. The band continues today. I can’t think of anything I did thirteen years ago which still works today.

Ten years later he was serving as Artistic Director of the Northern Sinfonia at a time when most people perceived orchestral life to be centred solely in the main UK cities.

And in case you’re wondering whether this is all sounding quite regional (and shame on you if you are), Mr Hickox was associate guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra from 1985 until his death and principal guest conductor with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from 2000 until 2006.

This man worked hard and went out like a light.

In tonight’s In Tune presented by Petroc Trelawny on BBC Radio 3, pianist Imogen Cooper played some keyboard music by Bach transcribed by Kurtag. I’m not sure whether it was a deliberate choice on her part, but if I’m ever famous enough so that my death features in a radio programme, I wouldn’t mind having Imogen Cooper do the same as she did in this particular broadcast. Breathtaking.

TV: Survivors (1 – 23 November 2008)

Good show, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Rather enjoyed Survivors on BBC One this evening. I was surprised. I heard of one review which was quite damning of it. Sadly, I can’t retrieve the link now, the bad review was one of those “word of mouth things”.

Doesn’t matter now. I don’t really care. I know I enjoyed it. I was gripped. I rather liked Max Beesley (and his character), the woman from in Bonekickers now playing the lead in Survivors and was rather pleased to see Doctor Who’s Freema again too. This bloke seemed good too although annoyingly I had to rely on the website to remind me where I’d seen him before – in Nip/Tuck.

In fact, everyone and everything seemed pretty damn good. So much so, I took a picture and titled it thus. I’m shameless me.

Naturally, I think it’s important to source other’s almost real-time assessments. Apart from @aarons whose opening gambit left me confused, I’m delighted to discover that @penelopeese registered a strong reaction. @millymum gave the first episode a good score. @sicross seemed to like it too. I hope @markiddon sticks with it.

More here.

Sausages with Onion Gravy *

6 sausages
2 medium onions
brown sugar
some green beans to serve


Put the sausages in the pan with some oil. Fry them. Keep an eye on them. Don’t let the skins burn before the “meat” inside has cooked through.

Slice the onions roughly – be quite cavalier – and add to the pan. (I put some butter in at this point because I do rather like to see it bubble and foam.)  Sprinkle some brown sugar on top. Stir, stare and marvel. If necessary, add salt repeating the stir,stare and marvel cycle.

When the sausages are cooked (just poke them), start blanching a packet of green beans. When the water’s boiling, remove the sausages and onions from the pan and serve them in dishes.

Pour some already mixed instant gravy into the frying pan. Mix it all together. Pour the resulting onion gravy over the sausages and onions and serve with the beans.

We really enjoyed making and eating this and thus ended up feeling quite smug.

* Assuming my colleague Tom isn’t a vegetarian, I think he really ought to make this tonight. He absolutely deserves the comfort food.