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Karin sat in Caffe Nero and waited for her soup.
When it came she heard a laugh, well, more of a snigger, but not a cruel one.
“Your soup matches your dress!” The guy sitting at the next table was grinning and looking at her. She tried to work out whether he was being an idiot or just inappropriately friendly for this part of south London. She saw a heavy, large-print Bible, it’s pages covered in annotations and faded highlighter, lying open in his lap. She smiled, but decided against further engagement.
She stirred her soup and looked at it intently. So did he.
He sniggered again, “I saw a movie yesterday where something just like this happened.”
“A quiet morning on the street, the rain hasn’t yet kicked in but the cold wind tells you that it isn’t far off. It’s time for the town’s drunks to converge on the Spar to buy their first tins of the day.
Not their first beers, mind, they needed a beer at home to get out and about but this will be the first they part with cash for.
Ten minutes later “Babyface” appears. He hasn’t saved enough from last night to go in the shop, so he hangs in front of the Spar asking for change until someone buys him a single can of Tennants which he downs almost in one.
A dark haired man in a track-suit walks slowly up from the Morgan Arcade. “Listen to me good. No, you listen to me ya fat c**t I’m calling you now, so just listen…”
A fat bald man, in a grey hoodie and white shorts with black slippers on his feet, goes to the cashpoint. His head is so fat he has to move the phone from his ear to his mouth when he speaks.
Babyface bumps fists with a straggly bearded dwarf and they walk off together.”
It doesn’t matter how many times you write it out or make a list, do it. There’s a voice that says it’s avoidance of really doing something, but it’s not. It’s progress. It’s getting today’s thought out on the page. Today’s thought leads to today’s action.
I’ve been asked to speak at the Late Late Breakfast Show this Wednesday on an occasion in my career when I’ve just said “Screw it!” and how it’s helped.
I think this is the foundation of just about every success I’ve ever had. Very little has worked for me by trying to follow “business as usual” but it still sings a tempting siren song on every project I start.
I started writing something about what happens if I don’t hit the target or what happens if I exceed the target and it just felt all wrong.
The first one particularly felt like:
- introducing some sort of fake jeopardy to induce people to part with cash;
- writing a risk register (*shudder*);
- just a lie really because I know and you know (if you know me well enough) that I only ever do things that I’d do even if it didn’t raise any money at all and that half the fun is making do with what you’ve got instead of throwing money at problems to make them go away.
So it’s going to happen whatever, but I will be able to spend more time on this project if the pot is fatter and less time if it’s slimmer – simples.
So go ahead, make it fatter
The one thing I do want to avoid is having a conversation with someone that goes “Oh what a shame you didn’t come last month, I had a load of old film that I didn’t know what to do with, so I chucked it out.” So I’m going to get on with this thing as quickly as I can with whatever resources I have.
Today I’ve purchased digitalshoebox.org.uk it points to the campaign page for now, tomorrow it will become the real home of the project!
I’m working on a digitised archive for Bromsgrove (last 48 hrs of crowdfunding) first because it’s a space and time that I have some knowledge of, I know the geography, I know some of the people who were there, I have stories of my own to tell.
But as much value as I think is there (and I think there’s loads) I’m just as interested in this as a learning project that can be replicated in other places. One of the attractions of Bromsgrove is that there’s very little notable about it. Until you start to dig… It’s nowhere special (for that value of special that we’ve developed during the last 100 years) but everywhere is special, everywhere has interesting stories to tell, it’s just more obvious to me what they are for this case.
So what about applying it in more conventionally “interesting” places? One of the most idea-sparking conversations I’ve had about possible next steps (always remembering that we haven’t done the first one yet!) came up yesterday at #altukgc13. I was talking about the importance of standing up for our own home-made media to tell a fuller story than mass media can and Mary McKenna pointed out that while the BBC has loads of archive material about Northern Ireland in the 1970s it’s completely dominated by stuff about the Troubles. And this might be a really neat way of telling more rounded stories about life beyond the ethno-political struggles and violence.
Oh yes. I like that a lot. We’ll do that.
Just scribbling this at lunchtime. For those not in the know, we’re running a massively cut-down informal version of UKGovCamp in a public space at the Royal Festival Hall basically “because snow”
We’re running a live stream via Google Hangouts which then ends up on YouTube. I’m just sayin’ the following:
The stream is provided strictly on an expectation-free basis.
- I know it’s frustrating if you’re listening to our conversation and then suddenly you can’t hear anything, but I think we have to make the conversation work foremost for the people in the room.
- We’re working for free in a public space of public wifi with a macbook air and a snowball mic. That’s the best we’ve got.
- None of us is being paid to be here, we’re all showing up for the conversation on the same basis you are, because we want to have the conversation and we’re having it now.
- No-one’s in charge here, we didn’t make a decision that we would stream this thing and then go about implementing it craply because we’re crap, we just thought it would be a good idea.
- This is not the only chance ever to join in this conversation, UKGC13 proper will happen soon and you’ll get the chance then.
- I can get a bit pompous and up on my high horse sometimes, I try not to, but I may be doing it right now. If you read what I’ve written and think “what a git” I’m sorry you feel that way.
Now we’re going to get talking again.
So UK GovCamp 13 isn’t going to happen tomorrow. It’s definitely a *postponement* rather than a cancellation: as well as people finding it difficult to travel from outside London and risking getting stranded till the weather subsides, it seems our venue hosts understandably didn’t want to take that risk for their staff either.
I spoke to Steph from behind his stacks of sponsored t-shirt boxes today and he’s basically just having to rearrange with IBM when we can use the space for sometime in February.
But I was looking forward to it. And I know a lot of you were too.
James Cattell is doing great stuff trying to get online interaction going and he’s going to focus on that. But the thing I was most looking forward to was not so much the content as the catching up with people in the gov/web world. And as my hosting duties for the day were already sponsored, I’m up for helping make something happen in addition to the online shenanigans.
So I suggest the following for anyone who’s in or around London and can get into town easily enough:
James and I will be on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall (next door-ish) to the original venue from 10am (that’s when they open) tomorrow, Saturday 19th January.
You can let us know if you’re coming by signing up on this wewillgather page
Whoever turns up will be able to get involved in organising the rest of the day, we can have as many sessions as we can make happen, we might all sit behind laptops communing online, or we might have a day-long tuttle-like conversation that people drop in and out of. Whatever!
Keep an eye on the hashtag #altUKGC13 to see how it’s going, whether we’re still there.
There is delicious coffee and sugar-infused dough things available for purchase on Level 2 of RFH and there is free wifi available throughout (although finding power sockets can be trickier)
Naturally, please don’t make a special journey to see us if the powers that be have told you not to go out unless your journey is essential.
I invariably over simplify everything so do ask questions either in the comments here or of me directly on twitter @lloyddavis
Another important idea in this project is looking at how popular culture really played out from the point of view of ordinary people, rather than from those making mass media. I’ve come to believe that we need to start telling our own stories in our own ways about our own lives, rather than relying on the established media to rehash itself.
I’m thinking mostly of television programmes that purport to tell us what life was like in the Seventies by stringing together clips of television programmes made in the Seventies.
There are two problems with this approach:
1. That by condensing material made for a mass medium all you’re doing is reinforcing an already partial view of society and what we were like.
2. That it is subject to censorship for reasons of political sensitivity (no more TOTP if it contains footage of Jimmy Savile) or the complexity of gaining licensing rights.
3. We all, legitimately, have our own view of what happened in the past and none of us know the whole truth.
My belief is that television was no more representative of what was really happening then than it is now. Except now we can make and share our own media cheaply and easily and then it was hard and expensive.
I’m not just interested in collecting and sharing this material because of the nostalgic fuzz, as delightful as that can be.
This project is also about allowing us to say: “This is how we were, we had a life and a point of view that was influenced by dominant pop cultures and media but was also something we made ourselves.”
The reason for stuff staying in the shoebox is often “Who would want to see this?” This is partly because we’re used to the idea that in order for something to be made publicly available, a lot of people need to want to see it. The reason that used to be the case is that it cost something to reproduce and distribute media. That cost has now fallen to practically zero, but our thinking hasn’t quite caught up with that fact.
The work I want to do on this project is not about finding a small number of images or films that will engage thousands of people. It’s about finding thousands of images, each of which might engage a small number of people.
I spoke to Bill Thompson about this, he’s a big cheese in the working out of what to do with the BBC’s huge amount of archive material. He pointed out that most items are going to have little or no value to the majority of people, but for the *right* people, they will be priceless.
Suppose I show you a picture of a party twenty-odd years ago, you vaguely recognise some of the people in the foreground but slowly you realise that the slightly blurred couple on the left are you and the love of your life and what’s captured there is the first few moments you ever saw each other. Now to anyone else, it’s just a picture of some slightly drunk people with a rather strange taste in fashion, but to you and your beloved? It’s *that* moment!
Of course, not every photograph holds images of people who’ve since spent their lives together, but I believe that that sort of value is more common than we usually think. And it’s the kind of effect I hope to find in this work, the sort of value I hope to create for people who see the archive.