Helping out Pudsey

Proudly worn, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

I have a spring in my step at the moment. Not only have I finally managed to get into work on time on three consecutive days (something of a rariety for me) but I’ve cracked on with a recently self-appointed task.

Progress has been slow but sure. There’s been a lot of mouse clicks, tutting, puffing and moaning on my part, not to mention innumerable windows alerts ringing in my headphones whenever I click on the wrong thing.

Even so, I am sniffing the very real smell of nearby smug self-satisfaction. The task is nearing completion. I feel like awarding myself my very own certificate, framing it and attaching it to my desk divider. Although, on second thoughts, it’s probably “cooler” to dream about Friday evening instead.

Friday evening, you see, sees quite an exciting event for me. I was reminded about it when I received an email from a colleague inviting me to a meeting to discuss the “Children in Need Backstage Photography Schedule”.

It’s a simple and relatively uninspiring task – certainly not one you’d immediately imagine would inspire a blog posting. Me and a bunch of similarly helpful and charming volunteers will be documenting backstage goings on at this year’s Children in Need fundraiser. I’m told that the good shots will appear on the website. I advise you here and now that I’m doing this for charidee.

It’s not, as you might be thinking, the opportunity to meet celebrities. Whilst there will be a number around – although at present noone’s telling me who exactly as everything’s strictly embargoed – I always find myself over-compensating when I see them. Treat them normally, I reassure myself. They’re not that special. It’s not like they’re gods or anything. They’re just human beings who, when prodded, will turn to the camera, plaster on a smile and wait for the shutter to clunk open and shut.

What gives me the buzz is the prospect of hanging around a live television event. There’s something inexplicably exciting about being present in and around

the vicinity of something occuring in a studio. The opportunity to witness people running around in an organised panic, with earphones clamped to their ears,walky-talkies hanging out of their back-pocket is something too good to miss.

And then there’s Television Centre on a Friday night. The audience arrives, queuing up in the chilly air on Wood Lane. You start recognising people whose names are a complete mystery. There’s an urgency in the air. Areas of the building previously accessible by anyone with a pass are unexpectedly roped off.

Portable TV lights are set up in weird and seemingly unnattractive places. In short, Television Centre and its environs is turned into one massive TV set.

There’s a buzz about the place in all its weird, grey iconic sixties-designed madness. It’s the place to be to feel a part of things during a live event. It is perhaps the time and place when the BBC truly comes alive, when it’s raison d’etre becomes obvious to even the most hard-hearted individual.

“Helping out” at Children in Need is something of a perk working for the BBC. For most people I suspect that White City is the last place they’d want to be late on a Friday night. I’m rather looking forward to it myself. I shall wear my Team Pudsey t-shirt with pride, even if I will end up blending seamlessly into the background amongst the hoards of other people decked out the same. I do hope the kiddies appreciate it.

Heavy rain in W12

I bought a layered prawn salad (or is it a prawn layered salad?) today from the supermarket inside the White City compound. And, as I made my way out through the exit intent on leaping back to my desk for an early lunch, I came face to face with the today’s big event in W12.

It was raining. Heavily.

“I’m not going out in that,” I said to a lady with her BBC pass hanging around her neck.

“No. Neither am I.”

I would normally have stopped and engaged with her. Never one to miss an opportunity to network (or rather, make mindless small talk in the hope that I might make a new pal), I always look on such chance happenings as being laden with future possibilities.

The truth was, I wasn’t in the mood to chat. I figured I’d make do with peering at the name on her pass. Could I work out her name and what job she did ?

I always play that game, you see. Sometimes I’ll stand in the lift and let my eyes wander to people’s waists. I’ll usually try in vain to focus on the name printed on the card. Sometimes I’ll question whether the person in the picture actually bears any resemblance to the owner in real life. Sometimes the lift journey offers insufficient time to be as thorough as I’d like to be.

It never works, of course. If former-colleague George was right, it was Greg Dyke who brought in the “we’re names not numbers” edict on the work pass. The only problem was, of course, that he insisted the first name was larger than the surname. What good is it knowing the person standing behind you in the queue at the canteen is a “Jon” when I can’t make out the surname and thus won’t be able to search for them on the email address list?

I know I could just ask even if I do risk being considered a little nosey. Perhaps I could just stop thinking about everyone else and just get on with the job in hand. Perhaps … it’s actually quite a good thing I can’t make out people’s surnames. I probably save myself quite a lot of embarrassment.

Remembrance Sunday (2008)

Remembrance 11th November 2007, originally uploaded by johnthurm.

Remembrance Sunday used to be something I observed on TV.

There was something appealing about the solemn coverage. The sight of sharply cut Portland stone towering above a silent and reverential London appealed to my patriotism. Craggy-faced ex-servicemen stood proudly shoulder to shoulder alongside an ever diminishing number of compatriots, all of them now battling painful memories and the promise of oncoming loneliness.

Those of us at home looked on in sadness and gasped as we observed grey-looking politicians accompanied by members of the royal family slowly step forward and lay down their wreathes. Everything looked so appropriate. Everything was so painstakingly choreographed. All of it accompanied by a brass band with an unfeasibly realistic ambient wildtrack.

It was TV. It was meant to be like that. I just didn’t realise it when I was eight years old.

When my voice broke, I was elegible and required (by virtue of there not being sufficient tenor voices in the school chapel choir) to participate in a more local Remembrance Day service. We remebered ex-pupils who served in both wars. This was our connection. We remembered our school history and those ex-pupils’ bright educated lives cut short by the war.

A mansion house with its own church set in 400 acres of land itself larger than the village it was in, the school was the perfect backdrop. Senior school boys dressed in Harris Tweed jackets and long overcoats, poppies immaculately pinned to their lapels, accompanied upper school girls in skirts and tights, hair tied back gripping their music. A biting wind stirred brittle autumn leaves. It was an elegant sight.

We’d sing in the church on the school grounds and then proceed to the village memorial to observe solemn faced representatives of the local community lay their wreathes. Were they actually remembering or re-enacting something they’d seen on the TV?

I had no connection with the First World War. If there are any dim and distant relatives who signed up never to return to Britain, none of my family know of them. Their stories haven’t emerged from spoken family histories.

So, what was I feeling when I participated in those acts of remembrance ? If there was no personal connection, how could this ritual benefit anyone? What was it achieving? Was I just making up the numbers? Was I a rubber-necker? Or was I participating in a solemn event in what felt like the perfect setting?

The sharp cut stone. The images in my head of former battlefields. These seemed like potent images at the time. I relied on them when I stood, head bowed during the silence.

We all stood motionless, welcoming the nothingness, thinking about something certain the person standing next to us was focussing on a fallen soldier.

As I moved further through school and on to university, so the appeal of this simple theatre gradually slipped away. The sense of occasion was lost somehow. There was no collective experience to be had with contemporaries. School commerations were history. Television coverage sidelined to recovering from a hangover. This was the reality of the Remembrance Day service to a student overcoming the effects of yet another hangover.

Over the years I have become increasingly disconnected from Remembrance Sunday. The traditional two minutes silence competes with a growing and insistent desire to mark what is all too often regarded as present-day society’s own life-changing events.

Football stadium and ferry disasters, coach and train crashes, the death of Diana, the London bombs. These were all shocking and heart-breaking events. They all touched all of us when we heard about and continue to haunt the victim’s families still now.

But unlike the First World War (and even 90 years on the potency of that event feels like it could be finally waning), those modern day life-changing events feel like they have a shelf-life.

The desire to remember the event has passed because we want to forget it or because it doesn’t touch us the way it did at first. We’ve marked it’s passing. We’ve grieved enough.

To me Remembrance Sunday has become nothing more than a box of paper poppies sat on a reception desk or ticket barrier. Dare to shake the collection pot and I bet you’ll shiver when you hear just how few coins rattle in the plastic container.

The imagery of my Remembrance Sunday is gone and with it the genuine motivation to mark the silence. Such shameful inaction is doing present-day servicemen and women (not to mention those who lost their lives over the past 90 years) a huge disservice.

Do something bold this Remembrance Sunday. Stand and remember those who lost their lives. Don’t let their families feel the loss of their loved ones has been lost on the rest of us..

How I heard about Obama’s win


Just like Christmas Day, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

It’s 5.30pm on a dark Wednesday afternoon. The traffic I can see out of my new office window is bumper to tail. It always is. It could be just another normal weekday although unusually for me, I can barely keep my eyes open.

I’ve spent most of the afternoon yawning. My new boss (who I understand went to bed at 10.30 last night) was able to see right into the inside of my mouth. For all I know he did. If he did then I feel a bit embarrassed. It can’t have been a pretty sight. I had red leicester and spring onion mayonnaise in my wholemeal bap today. That and it’s only my third day in the job too.

There is good reason for me being tired. Like many moved by events in America over the past 24 hours, I am an US election victim.

Embarrassingly however, I also ended up going to bed quite early – shortly after the results programme kicked off here in the UK. I was all set to stick with the results process, wanting to share in a moment of potential collective euphoria if and when Barrack Obama but I ended preferring the comfort of a firm mattress, a double duvet and two lovely black cats.

Safely ensconced, I switched on the radio and waited for James Naughtie on Radio 4 to lull me to sleep. As I slowly drifted off, one horrible thought crept into my mind.

I was certain Obama would win. It felt like he would. It felt like he’d won the Presidency of the United States last week, to be honest. I can’t put my finger on exactly why. I just knew it.

But wait … the last time I was thinking like that was when I drifted off to sleep the same night when we waited for the 2004 result? Four years ago I seem to remember being certain George Bush would be ousted.

When I woke up the morning after the 2004 vote, I was a little surprised.

Would the same happen again this time? Did I dare to go to sleep and risk waking up the following morning and experiencing some kind of Groundhog Day thing where the guy I was expecting to win it, failed?

I reached out and patted the thick fur of our larger cat Cromarty, noting the slightly slimmer one – Faero – laying at the foot of the bed keeping watch.

What felt like hours later, the lovely Simon is shaking me by the shoulders. What the hell is he doing? What time is it? Why is he doing this? 

I avoid opening my eyes. I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to move.  

“He’s won! Obama’s won!”

That’s all I remember now. And if it’s the only thing I remember about today then I’ll definitely always remember today because of it.

Aside from the fact that Obama cut a dashing look on the regal, arc-lit podium from where he gave his victory speech and clearly looks the statesmen, he also inspires when he speaks and makes me feel excited about the future. 

More importantly, at some point in the future the fact that he’s America’s first black President will have passed from being the breathtaking statement that it is and move to becoming par for the course.