Me Time

An evening spent consuming a much-needed meal during my weekend at the Free Thinking Festival in Liverpool saw me indulge in a spot of me time. (It feels like it’s been a long time since the last time although in truth it’s only been three weeks or so.) Nothing especially indulgent other than pouring over the Saturday Guardian which had laid unread on my bed all day.

God bless Marina Hyde. After a week of wall to wall Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, it’s felt like a real relief to hit the weekend and start consuming the longer range coverage and comment this story has inspired. As an employee, it’s been a little surreal. Marina’s piece was one of the more striking ones.

More reassurance to be found in the story on page 16 highlighting the glaring translation error made by Swansea council.

In the Family section (usually dismissed by most) there’s an interesting piece on Storybook Dads. Positive, forward-thinking rehabilitation work.

In the John Lewis catalogue (I’d given up on the Sport, Review and Work section of the paper), I was surprised and ultimately confused to see a fully reversible christmas tree for sale at John Lewis. Why ON EARTH would you want one exactly, unless of course you fear stony silences when people visit your home over the Christmas holidays and you need topics of conversation?

In the Guardian Christmas Books catalogue (no, this blog posting isn’t a blatant attempt to suck-up to the Guardian) I notice a book I’d quite like to receive for myself, one I’d wouldn’t mind giving my sister, one for my brother-in-law and one I will definitely be giving “someone” this holiday.

Oh, and getting on to the Guardian Weekend, I do rather like this aftershave based on the wipe-your-wrist-like-a-lady strip inserted into the magazine.

Free Thinking Festival: Is Privacy Dead?

Is it wrong to be blogging about an event which has been recorded for radio not intended to be broadcast until Monday 3 November at 9.15pm? Am I revealing something I shouldn’t be even though I know it will happen because I sat in a room and listened to a man tell me and one hundred or so other people ?

It’s a question I’m thinking about having come out of a debate at the Free Thinking Festival which posed the question “Is Privacy Dead?”

In an age of online communities, blogging, micro-blogging and picture sharing, I find myself thinking intensely about my personal activities online. It’s scary. I can’t get it out of my head.

What should I reveal about myself? What do I reveal about myself online? Do I reveal too much? Am I revealing my true self or, a convenient skewed image of myself? Should I be more private? Should I reveal more? Would anybody read anything I wrote if I did?

And if it is I have an online persona and a real one (and personally, I would argue that they are one and the same otherwise both pursuits would be absolutely agony day to day) are there times when I don’t want to participate online ? Are there times when my mood, my insecurities and fears curtail my online activities? Thinking about those specific things, should I in fact be more careful about how I conduct myself online in an act of much-needed self-preservation?

Don’t you loathe people who ask too many questions and can’t/won’t/can’t be bothered to provide any answers? Well, the truth I feel the pressure of time on me. There’s no time to answer the questions even if I knew the answers. It’s a fast moving world. The bar here at the Free Thinking Festival is buzzing – the “Speed Date a Thinker” crowd are busy preparing for their hour of fun and there’s a competition going on between me and another other chap sat across from me busily tapping away at his laptop.

What I’m struck by – yet again – is how a relatively brief session listening to the likes of Bill Thompson, psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Cultural Historian Jonathan Sawday and Geoffrey Rosen has set my mind buzzing with excitement.

The most pointed example raised in the hour long debate hosted by Philip Dodd was this. Geoffrey Rosen explained how some students he knew of would take to live-blogging lectures and seminars. Was this a use of technology which was to be welcomed?

The fact is it’s here. We all do it. Those of us who use the internet rely on opportunities like these. There’s a buzz. A desire to provide a personal response to events as we witness them. We want to share where we are at any given moment in time even if the majority of the audience don’t care or would rather prefer it if we didn’t clog up the internet with our ill-considered babble.

The answer is impossible to arrive at. My interviews kick off in around fifteen minutes time and the speed daters are about to start their speed dating session.

I also have to get this blog published as quickly as possible. I have to beat the bloke sitting opposite me. I know he’s blogging about it. I just know. Why would he look so intently at his laptop in the way he does? I must beat him to it. Seeing as he’s Bill Thompson, the need seems inexplicably even greater.  

Disappointingly it appears I’ve failed. Mind you, it might have helped if I’d been a little less verbose.

You can hear the Free Thinking Debate “Is Privacy Dead?” on Monday 3 November at 9.15pm on BBC Radio 3.

Free Thinking Will Self

Will Self has been a genuine surprise. A considerably more learned friend of mine suggested that Self was a master in making most people feel as though they really hadn’t studied enough. I could see what my friend meant.

Self takes dryness to a new level. He’s off the dry-scale. Whenever I’ve seen him on Newsnight Review I’ve never really been sure quite how to take him. In fact, if memory serves me correctly I may possibly have turned to long-suffering partner (from hereonin referred to merely as LSP) and said “The man doesn’t like anything, does he?”. I had this assessment in my head when I went along (almost too late) to the opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on Friday 31 October.

I was, of course, being a fool. In his lecture, Self deftly illustrated the striking the differences between the thoughts we read about in our favourite novels and the reality of our own day to day thoughts. In so doing he skilfully demonstrated his mastery at the English language and why he is the successful novellist and literary anti-celebrity he is. Oh, and I almost forgot, he made me laugh like a queen too.

There’s something special about the Free Thinking Festival. It’s almost impossible to put my finger on. It’s something to do with the location and the fact that I feel as though for the rest of the year I’m starved of the kind of intelligent feeding of the kind there is on offer during this all-too-short weekend.

At first I reckoned referring to what struck me as the mere simple and possibly middle-aged pleasure of sitting and listening to a speaker read out his thoughts in front of an audience as something of an indulgence. 

Now, having listened to the same lecture back a second time during the relayed broadcast on Radio 3, it feels more accurate to refer to these events as a treat. Hearing and seeing someone speak makes for a personal experience. It’s something we just don’t get very much of. Or, at least, it’s something I don’t do enough of.

Self’s appearance this evening has changed my views about him. Not only that, but the criteria he’s using to judge whether his contribution to this year’s festival has been a success or not presents me with an interesting challenge.

Does his illustration of what the reality of human thought is make the likes of Jane Austen’s naturalism nothing but therapy for the reader? I can’t wait to pick up a copy and see for myself. Well done Self.

Will Self’s opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival is avalailable for the next seven days on BBC iPlayer or via /programmes. Go listen.

Up to Liverpool


I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t a four and a half hour journey from London to Liverpool. It was in fact two and a half hours. Not only that, the thought of upgrading to first class was quickly dismissed when a very smart looking attendant standing outside the train advised me that no, on weekdays upgrades to first class were in fact £130 and not £18. I shuffled off feeling a little disappointed.

During the journey there was time to get some footage together for a short clip. Not having a cameraman makes the process more time consuming but still a challenging kind of fun. I’m nearly always surprised about how many more cutaways I need to break up the script. This usually means looking for different ways of shooting what might otherwise be regarded as a fairly dull interior. Bear in mind that rapid moving subjects don’t translate well on the web and very quickly the options are fewer and fewer.

Still, if there’s one thing I’m rather relieved about it’s the brevity of the thing. The Proms videos were over five minutes long nearly every time. Short form content is all about the piece being as short as it possibly can be. For someone who rather likes the sound of his own voice, such a demand can sometimes be a little difficult to meet.

Read up on the opening lecture given by Will Self at the 2008 Free Thinking Festival.

Thinking about freedom

It’s not often I wake up in the middle of the night, eyes wide open, my mind working overtime.

It’s annoying, that’s for sure. Annoying mostly because I seem to spend my day worrying about one thing or another to a greater or a lesser extent, so much so in fact that I do wonder why I bothered paying the first installment on my gym membership. Anxiety is always a good contributory factor to weight loss.

I’ve been thinking about the word “freedom” just recently, largely because one man suggested I might like to think about it along with the words “childhood” and “equality”. It was quite a tempting offer, not least because it seemed to set my fingers tingling with excitement.

What does “freedom” mean to me? How can I illustrate what it means to me ? Is there a reasonably interesting point (or points) to be made about the word “freedom”? It’s 4.37am on Wednesday morning. Given that I can’t sleep for worrying, I’m going to give it a damn good stab.

If I stop to think about things in my life as they are right now, me staring at the keyboard and panicking about the white space on the screen in front of me, there’s one freedom I’ve only just recently realised I’ve taken for granted for quite some considerable time.

Over the past ten years the internet has afforded me more opportunities than I ever thought I’d want or need. Quite apart from the obvious professional opportunities I’ve had working with web-related things, the internet has also made it possible for me to publish the results of my creative efforts in one form or other.

If it’s not a blog it’s a podcast. Videos or photographs. Facebook statuses (?sp) or the very briefest of dalliances with Twitter. All of these “tools” have allowed me to express myself without the interference of an editor wagging his finger, rolling his eyes or shaking his fist at me.

It is in fact these latest internet technologies, some part of what’s regarded as part of “Web 2.0”, which have been the most liberating. Facebook, hailed by many as the greatest development in social networking on the internet since I-don’t-know-what, has been that for me.

Over the past few months I’ve “made contact” with a whole host of people, made different kinds of connections with people at work, people from previous jobs and most recently people from school. * I’ve seen different angles on lots of different people. I’ve felt a part of different people’s lives in a way I hadn’t originally thought possible or necessary.

With predictable shamelessness I’ve also used these growing networks of propagating my fairly regular daily creative efforts. Contrary to the advice given by a friend who said “just concentrate on the content of your blog – let others market it”, I’ve found it difficult to resist trying to draw people in. After all, what’s the point in writing something if others don’t read or can’t read it. I’ve got to be honest that after I’m done writing I don’t really have much time or inclination to read my own blog back again. Once the “Post This Entry” button has been clicked, that’s it done with. I wash my hands of it, unless of course the spelling mistakes are so grim that it warrants a return visit in edit mode.

The ultimate problem with writing regularly and sharing with people I know via the likes of Facebook is that little by little the creative freedoms I had formally are slowly getting eroded. Suddenly I have to think twice before I commit something the screen. Who will read this? Will my words offend them? Will my actions be interpreted by some as grist for their particular mill? Do some people read this and then turn to a friend and say “have you seen the bollocks he’s written here – the pretentious wanker!”

Underpinning the power of self-publishing we’ve all of us come to take for granted is the growing spectre of moral and legal responsibility. I can write about what I want, in theory, but as I establish more and more real and virtual relationships to distribute those words so I have to stop and, in many cases, cross a topic off my list. That is a very disappointing prospect, almost as though someone is standing behind looking over my shoulder and warning me off particular words, phrases, sentences or (worse) entire paragraphs.

Some people (probably sandal-wearers) will shout “That’s the creative challenge – rise to it!”

I’d just say it’s a pain in the arse.

* It’s not without good reason that the people I consider closest and most in-tune are often correct when they half-jokingly refer to me as a real-life networking whore.