Ah, the typewriter. I’m sitting, hands on laptop keyboard, staring at the screen but my mind’s eye looks back to an old Royal machine in a long-ago newsroom where I sit, fingers poised above firm round buttons, piles of screwed up copy paper on the floor, staring into the middle distance, waiting for words.
Writing was tough muscular exercise in those early days of the young trainee reporter. Still is if truth be told – or it is for me – tough on brain, hands and eyes. Words can take their wayward time in coming however you seek them. But before the invention of the word processor the very act of typing was a physical feat.
News of the last typewriter rolling off a production line in Wrexham flashes me back more than 40 years to a room of keen, if cynical, young hacks. We’re sitting in long rows, each one of us at a desk with a typewriter, eyes glued to a big screen on the far wall, headphones receiving the voice of Big Brother taking us up and across the keyboard, finger by finger, one line at a time.
It was a brave new idea, introduced by the NCTJ ((National Council for the Training of Journalists) who thought it was high time young reporters got beyond two fingers. The ability to touch type at a minimum of 80 words per minute was one of the qualifications that gained me a certificate at the end of my three-year apprenticeship.
The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog
There was scoffing among the two-finger merchants on our block-release course at Harlow Technical College, never convinced that ten fingers would speed the flow of good stories. And they were probably right.
Oddly, I became quite good at it. I was probably among the minority who enjoyed the tap and rhythm of touch typing. Never mind the copy, feel the action! Even now I sometimes find myself tapping out the shape of a new word with my fingertips on an imaginary typewriter. Fast, though not always accurate, I can type proper sentences while looking out the window which always amuses my young tecky sons whose thumbs are much more at home on the touch screen of a smartphone.
I was a reluctant convert to the word processor. My sons took a long time to coax me to our first desktop computer (a then state of the art Amstrad). At first I was inhibited by my own words taunting me on the screen but soon grasped the liberation of cut and paste (no more tipex, no bins full of paper). Now I can move words, sentences, paragraphs – whole pages – around with a few quick keys. But I still stare into the middle distance, hands ready, brain stalling on 80wpm.
This is the hat that I did not wear to meet the Queen. I did not wear any other hat and I did not meet the Queen. But I got near. As a would-be republican I have not been flaunting the invitation but yesterday Ray and I went to our first Royal Garden Party at Balmoral. Just us and 2000 others.
Since you can reckon roughly half of those were women, that’s a lot of hats. Indeed it was a veritable mad hatters’ party, a milliner’s field day; a fantasy of tulle and net, straw and ribbon, feathers and flowers, lace and look-at-me, bobbing across the royal lawns.
Uniforms may be worn, said the invitation. To most women that means a hat. At the last moment, I left mine on the back seat of the car because I wasn’t sure it would stand up to the threatening rain. We had forgotten our royal parking permit so like a couple of swells we walked up the avenue (across a fine old Brunel bridge built 1856 and up Prince Albert’s spectacular conifer avenue; possibly the high spot of the afternoon). During the two-hour jamboree (4-6pm the invitation said) I counted perhaps 10 other women who were not wearing a hat (take my word, fascinators are on the way out) and more than half of those were waitresses
So we walked up the avenue
What her majesty was wearing, I have no idea. We did not get anywhere near close enough to meet her. She did not drop from a helicopter in salmon pink so we did not even see her over the crowds. But at 4.30pm the band struck up the national anthem and a dense line formed in front of the solid grey Balmoral block while hundreds queued for salmon sandwiches (what, no cucumber?) and strawberry tarts with a nice cup of tea.
It was an oddly mixed social occasion. With marquees, kilted men and all those hats, it felt like a wedding without the bride and groom and guests who couldn’t work out who the other side was. There was even a man in a morning coat with a top hat and tartan trews. But no speeches, no formalities, no cameras.
Luckily we sat beside a friendly couple, a farmer and his wife who had travelled from Yorkshire to be there. A long way to come? “It’s a long story,” said the farmer modestly. And a good one – he buys Highland cattle from Balmoral and rears them for beef, grazing them on a conservation meadow owned by the RSPB. He used to sell his beef at the Borough Market in London … and lots more fascinating stuff about the cattle and the farm. We almost forgot where we were.
And then the castle clock showed it was coming on for 6pm, we could respectably leave the party. On the way out we passed Nicholas Witchell the BBC’s royal correspondent waiting to say his piece to camera. I couldn’t imagine what he would find to say.
Dear Diary (if I may call you that), I have been neglecting you badly over the last month or two. But I have not been idle.
During May I walked 104 miles during the Great British Walking Challenge. On the hypothetical journey from John O Groats to Lands End that would have taken me roughly as far as Alness. In fact many of the miles were up and down Leith Walk, helping to plan another Open Space event (Your Vision for Leith Walk?) that kept me from attending to my blog.
One of these days I will work out a way to write a blog that I can comfortably copy and paste across several websites (somehow it never feels quite right). But at least I did manage to make a connection between the Open Space event and the guest blog Ray wrote a year ago about the shameful state of Leith Walk.
And I also found a link between the Great British Walking Challenge organised by the charity Living Streets and my new day job on Walking Heads – we both want to get people out walking after all. At the end of the month I was very chuffed to discover Living Streets has quoted my Walking Heads blog posts in their newsletter and elsewhere also mention the fact that I lobbied my local MSP about their campaign for safer and smoother pavements. On my way up and down Leith Walk I could hardly fail to notice the state of the ground beneath my feet.
So in a way, Dear Diary, it has all made some kind of sense. But next month I hope to get back to spending some time with you. For once I need to stay in more.
Mad weather. I take my morning coffee out to join Beth basking in an upside down season. The other day I heard geese flying over, there are red leaves piled up on the ground and a robin sits on the wheelbarrow watching me watching him. All the signs of late September are staring me in the face but the thermometer says something quite different. Summer has finally arrived as nature dumps autumn on the back doorstep.
It’s odd to feel so warm when the sun is low in the sky and leaves are falling fast. Edinburgh has turned into a Mediterranean city; cafes spilling out on to pavements, people eating and drinking in dark warmth, instead of the usual clusters of smokers hunched over a quick fag on a cold night.
With perfect timing we’re getting ready for a late holiday in Spain, grabbing a chance to warm our bones before winter after a long miserable summer. Now the Athens of the North is at least as hot as the one on the edge of bankruptcy. Madrid, where we are headed, is no warmer.
For the last few days I’ve been finding any excuse I can to get outside. Hanging up washing, pulling half-heartedly at a weed or two, shrinking from the thought of tackling the rose that has gone rampant after months of rain.
My poor garden is even more neglected than my blog. They are both making me feel guilty. It’s not just the other work that’s been getting in the way. When there was time to spare, the weather was wrong. But while the blog just stands idle when I can’t get into it – words don’t grow by themselves – the garden is always on the go, plants climbing the walls, weeds wangling their way into every nook and cranny.
Still, they will both have to wait a week or two until we get back from sunny Spain. By then, doom mongers predict we can expect snow.
If winter jasmine comes can spring be far behind. The answer is probably yes.
Proud parents have followed FOUND the band to all kinds of places. We missed the Small Isles Festival on Eigg but made it to T in the Park, and a container gig (no kidding) in a car park plus sundry clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. We were away when Lauren Laverne played their new chocolate single on BBC 6. Still not kidding – we saw, heard and ate the proof at the Cupar bakery where the brilliantly bonkers confection was made. Just listen to this and marvel…
It is a bit scratchy but you have to keep telling yourself this is a chocolate disc spinning on a turntable with a stylus grooving the tracks of FOUND’s Anti Climb Paint pressed into a mixture made from 53.8% cocoa solids.
After a pretty scary few weeks of mistakes and unplayable records FOUND sent over the pressing of Anti Climb Paint and things started to come together
Ms Laverne (quite cool enough to handle chocolate) was impressed. Since tonsilitis prevented Ziggy and the rest of the band travelling to London, she played the chocolate version of Anti Climb Paint on BBC6 then ate it “just like the Vikings” – a Laverne tweet which Ray and I couldn’t quite understand when we picked it up during our trip to Oslo: we were surrounded by Viking lore and not a trace of chocolate (Maybe just as well FOUND didn’t get to her studio).
Moment of truth in the Cupar bakery: it took two attempts but it played
On Sunday we took the train to Cupar to see for ourselves and enjoyed every moment of a mad evening. As Ziggy’s voice is not quite recovered, the bakers stood in for FOUND and put on a great show – along with a performance from King Creosote and finale from Kev’s River of Slime (I know, deliciously out of place in a chocolate factory).
Now our copy of the single is in a cool dark place awaiting a suitable occasion. The instructions recommend a half hour in the freezer before playing. Will we keep it after that or make a nice cup of cocoa? Rock n roll for proud parents.
Ziggy and Kev (on right) pay tribute to the bakers’ band, and where was Tommy?
Just to show I don’t spend all my time photographing litter. Here’s my attempt at origami pelicans to hang on the Poetry Tree in the Poetry Garden in St Andrew Square. So, you don’t know about thePoetry Garden? More about that later – right now I better go and pack for the trip to Oslo tomorrow. The forecast says its warm and wet. But judging from the price of booze it will be pretty dry as far as we are concerned.
Does social media connect or separate communities? (With apologies to Ian Hamilton Finlay and Little Sparta)
Distraction. I should be working but Googling alerts me to a poll on the Guardian’s Edinburgh blog. Should the Old Odeon become a Wetherspoons pub? By the time I vote (no, of course) and leave a comment the story has slipped down screen and out of sight.
New media tends to runs in vertical lines. Blogging and tweeting are streams of information that flow quickly down, and off, the screen. Out of sight. The issue hasn’t gone away, it’s just shoved out of mind by the next story. If you want to know more you can find it somewhere online but that takes time, effort and the inclination to check facts and make connections between related incidents and issues.
That’s the shortcoming of hyperactive ‘hyperlocal’ news. By creating smaller and smaller circles of readers, social media may just as often divide and fragment communities as it connects them.
Having said that, I confess to being a social media addict: I blog therefore I am. I spend hours Googling. I tweet and retweet, I post daft YouTube links on Facebook, sometimes just for fun, sometimes seriously and I occasionally get the treat of a conversation with like-minded souls (friends and strangers). But there are times when I find myself longing for the days when reliable local news came spread across a page horizontally and hung around long enough for you to absorb the information. We called it a newspaper.
Lines in the sand on Canna, waves make them and wash them away.
Newspapers are not quite dead yet (though some are giving a good impression of it) and I am glad to see an odd symbiotic relationship between old and new media – that Andrew Lansley rap would probably not be clocking up more than a quarter of a million YouTube hits (and counting) if it had not been for the mention in the Guardian newspaper.
What’s the news today? To find out, I have several choices. I can scan the latest electronic updates in my inbox; I can flit through Twitter or other social media gatherings in cyberspace; or I can take my newspaper and cup of coffee into the garden and sit in the sun while real birds twitter in the trees.
In the end I do all three. And though it is much more pleasant sitting in the sun, the news is no better in the garden. The Cumbrian killings, Gaza and a pervading sense of economic gloom dominate world and national news.
Inside, on my laptop I find local headlines gleaned from local bloggers and community websites whose news and views are increasingly taking the place of the local newspaper.
But who has time to track all this down? Today, as it happens, I have time to spare since a morning meeting was cancelled – and thanks to two enterprising young (new media) men I can scan local websites with just a couple of clicks. Ally Tibbitt (whose GreenerLeith website won a hyperlocal blog award earlier this year) and Tom Allan Guardian beatblogger are both exploring the potential of crowd sourcing.
Edinbuzz aims to crowd source news about Edinburgh, and help more people to share news about their neighbourhood.
This is ‘hyperlocal’ news in action. “Hyperlocal sounds like something from Startrek,” says Tommy pithily but it’s an interesting development of citizen journalism and as a former local newspaper hack I have mixed feelings: I am fumbling my way through the maze of social media networks and I badly need a compass.
Like most people I know, I find local newspapers thoroughly depressing. I hate the negative misinformation that masquerades as news. I pity the shrinking workforce of badly paid reporters. I understand the old (paid for) media is struggling to compete with new media freely available online but the newspaper industry cannot restore readership by cutting quality – I know at least one Johnston Press editor who is under severe pressure to cut staff and increase circulation at the same time.
So I congratulate both Tom and Ally on a generous and innovative move to provide better information for local people. But it’s a challenging project. Can unpaid bloggers fill the gap left by local newspapers? How many of us have time, skill and resources to do the rigorous research that produces a good, well-balanced, accurately-informed newspaper story? How do we guard against simply repeating what each other says without checking the facts – wandering around the Hall of Mirrors, as Alan McIntosh of the Spurtle so succinctly put it at the informal gathering of local bloggers organised by Tom Allan last week?
Who has the answers? For now – thanks to Tom’s roundup – I am glad to see that when I catch the train to Glasgow I may soon be able to enjoy free wi-fi, giving me a choice of struggling with a newspaper or opening my laptop to follow the news. Wherever it comes from.
On a mild and misty morning your friendly neighbourhood beatblogger slips a mobile phone in her pocket and sets off hoping to catch sight of the local community policeman breaking into an old railway tunnel.
It’s a good news story. Opening up the old railway tunnel is just one of PC Simon Daley’s imaginative plans to create a more stimulating environment for young people. As it happens the demolition work has been delayed but I posted an earlier story about him on the Leith Open Space community blogand hope to follow it up soon.
So I am only half joking about the beatblogger bit. A couple of months ago The Guardian was advertising for their first official Edinburgh beatblogger. “The successful candidate will be a confident blogger, know their yelps from their tweets, have a passion for local news and understand how to build relationships with the local community.”
I understood most of that sentence. And hoped a passion for local news and community relationships would count for at least as much as a yelp or a tweet. But wasn’t really clear what it meant. Since then, in idle moments Googling “Beatblogger’, I have discovered different definitions, the most confident one coming from Beatblogger.org:
A beatblogger, simply put, is a beat reporter who uses their blog as a tool to engage their readers, interact with them, use them as sources, crowdsource their ideas and invite them to contribute to the reporting process.
But just as I think I am getting the idea, and before the Guardian’s beatblogger gets a chance to hit the streets, a new kid arrives on the block. Caledonian Mercury, Scotland’s first exclusively online newspaper, went live yesterday (on Burns Night no less), and clocked up more than 30,000 hits before Newsnight Scotland interviewed the new editor – and added two more from our household at least.
It’s a big gamble but the former editor of the Scotsman website, Stewart Kirkpatrick, seems well up for it and (as the Newsnight pundits agreed) the first edition looks pretty good – with perhaps some of the self-confident quality that I remember from the better old days of Scotland’s would be national newspaper.
Where does that leave the beatblogger? It looks to me as if Caledonian Mercury is beatblogging writ large though it seeks to “return journalism to journalists”. I like the positive tone of the opening leader – makes a very welcome change from the Scotsman – but it will be interesting to see how it develops. And who will have time to read it.
It’s getting mighty crowded in cyberspace. It takes an open mind, a keen eye and a lot of time to spot the facts among the vested interests. Meanwhile, there are plenty of stories going untold. I hope the new newspaper and the beatbloggers will be able to find them in the crowd. They will need that passion – and a chance to get out and meet people face to face.
On my way back from Scotland Yard I saw my first snowdrops of the year. Sometimes it’s good just to get a walk in the park
The next instant it was gone – and so was our dinner. Ed Malone in the Lost World
Hot foot in the snow to St Andrew Square to check poetry stakes are still in place. So far so good, though last week I obviously blogged too soon. The Lost World vanished from the garden within a day of me writing about it. Prose, poetry, pictures and willow stakes: gone without trace.
Take 2 (or, actually, please don’t take any just yet): Lost World poems and pictures replanted in St Andrew Square in fading light on Friday afternoon. I shot up to the square on Saturday morning to capture the scene but, would you believe it, the camera battery died just as a group of young people gathered to read poems by the pond. You will just have to take my word for it.
A huge black shadow, twenty feet across, skimmed up into the air; for an instant the monster wings blotted out the stars, and then it vanished over the brow of the cliff above us. Ed Malone in The Lost World