Monday, 11 March 2019

What’s it like begin the audience on BBCs Question Time?

What’s it like begin the audience on BBCs Question Time? Well the other day I found out. It came about via a note on a local Facebook group that my wife forwarded across, suggesting that I apply. Despite having a genuine interest in politics I've never really enjoyed Question Time as invariably it features either insipid politicians spouting platitudes, left-wing journalists or “celebrities” virtue-signaling about austerity, or failing that a partisan audience who are frothing at the chance to clap at the first aggressively-delivered sound bite that comes their way. But fine. It was in Dudley, which is not far from where I live and the application form took about two minutes to complete so I went for it. 

To my slight surprise I received an email from the BBC a couple of days later asking me to ring them to “discuss my two questions.” The program manager, a lady by the name of Alison Fuller, took my call and it quickly transpired that I had been selected to feature in the audience. 

A word then on the application process itself. Essentially you have to provide the usual personal details and then state who you typically vote for, whether or not you belong to a political party and whether you voted leave or remain in the 2016 referendum. When stating my two questions over the phone I was informed that they needed to be short, to the point and designed to fire up passionate debate without any unnecessary preamble. 

So then to the day of the program. I reached Dudley Town Hall at 6, queued in the freezing drizzle for five minutes and then made my way through the security and registration process (you need to ensure you don’t bring weapons in but you do remember your passport or driving license). I was handed two cards, rather like at a polling station, and told to write my two questions down along with my name and occupation. These were then handed in to be reviewed - they select the four or five questions prior to filming. We then had to wait for twenty minutes or so before Fiona Bruce suddenly appeared to give a “prep talk” on the program and what they expected of a Question Time audience. 

I have to say at this point that it was the experience of being part of a television program rather than the program itself that was the interesting thing and to see how someone like Fiona Bruce can just turn up in a new location in front of a hundred or so people she has never met and talk so freely and openly about what is going to happen and what to expect was impressive to say the least. We were informed that we would head down to the studio at around 7.15pm and that filming would start just after 8.30pm.

My mistake at this point was to remain in a seat at the rear of the waiting room and not get up and “hover” as 7.15pm approached because I ended up being stuck towards the rear of the queue as we filed down the stairs and into the studio. They fill up from the front and so by the time I reached the seats I was directed into a position at the far corner, the farthest from the introduction shot and completely out of the main frame of the audience cam. So my advice if you want to be at the forefront of the action is to get to your feet a few minutes before they take you to the studio and ensure you’re somewhere towards the front of the queue!

Once we were seated, the floor manager announced himself and basically took over for the next hour or so, keeping us under instruction but at the same time doing his best to engage and entertain the audience. They chose five volunteers to sit in the panel so that a faux debate could be started in order to warm everyone up and test the sound levels. This was on the one hand rather tedious (listening to five nobodies give their opinion) yet did provide some insight into how these sorts of programs are put together. What did occur to me fairly quickly was that I was surrounded by quick a few people who were unlikely to share my opinions should I get to air my thoughts later in the evening. There was a typical teenager to my right (I suspect his Palestinian lanyard had been hidden in his jeans pocket), some anti-austerity types in front of me and a couple of gobby teachers behind who had a highly irritating habit of clapping loudly and aggressively when they agreed with something as if to hammer home the point that they were undoubted morons. The topic of this “fake” debate was childhood obesity and who was to blame and, though I couldn’t really be bothered to engage at this stage in proceedings, it was alarming to sense just how many people were determined that the government had a responsibility for so much of their decision-making. The one man who suggested that he shouldn’t have to pay more tax just to help out a “load of salad dodgers” was roundly booed and heckled, whilst one woman in front of me came out with the most ludicrous comment possible. She claimed that she had enjoyed the taste of Caramel SomethingOrOther coffees at Starbucks for years but only recently discovered that they contain 11 spoons of sugar and how outrageous that was and that the government should make them put that on the side of the cup as that would have made her think twice. The fact that a forty or perhaps fifty-year-old woman hasn’t managed to sync her taste buds with her brain cells and put two-and-two together in order to figure out that perhaps the “lovely” sweet taste is down to the sugar content and moreover that the inclusion of the word “caramel” might suggest the sort of beverage that top athletes would typically avoid paints rather a bleak picture for the state of our society.

Losing the will to live...

Anyway, after an hour, Fiona Bruce appeared to rescue us from this meandering garbage and continued from where she left off, picking up everyone’s energy and explaining what was about to take place. Four or five people were called out whose questions had been selected (alas not me) and whilst they were taken to one side to be prepped by the floor manager, Fiona explained that Margaret Beckett had been stuck in traffic and would be a few minutes late – in the meantime the four other panelists were introduced and took their seats. These were Owen Jones (left wing media journalist), Iain Martin (centre-right media journalist), Javed Khan (charity leader) and Dominic Raab (Tory MP – ex Brexit Minister). As they settled in, Fiona took the opportunity to quickly film the introduction to the program, before taking a non-broadcast question to get things going (something about the hapless Christ Grayling from memory). A few minutes later the tiny figure of Margaret Beckett arrived and we were ready to go.

At this point, it is fair to say that there were a few nerves and a tentative, collective intake of breath as people realized they were about to be filmed for the next hour on a program that would air within the same evening. I was positioned just behind the lady who would be reading out the very first question and so tried to hold my pose (I don’t even know what a television pose is but it didn’t prevent me from trying) – yet I would later discover that the angle of the camera excluded me from view. This is both a good and bad part of being in a television audience in a debate: whilst you never know when you will be in shot, it does mean that you relax a little, after all it is impossible to stress about being in view for that length of time (unless of course you know you have been chosen to ask a question). The debate began with a question on knife crime before moving inevitably to Brexit (I had submitted questions on both of these topics). As the debate meandered on, all of my typical annoyances with the program came to the fore – for instance Owen Jones is as petulant and child-like off camera as he is on camera, his delivery manner over-exaggerated for effect and his every comment leading inevitably back to his common theme of austerity, Corbyn-worship and socialism. Just as I found myself wanting to throw a brick at his head, he then gave a cheeky little grin to one of the crew members and I’m then overcome with remorse: how dare I allow myself to grow incensed at his gibberish when this is a small boy we’re talking about? He shouldn’t be on a program like this, but at home with his mother. Bless him. Beyond Jones, it is (as it often is) the case that most of the stupidity comes from the audience, typically from certain young woman of the shawl-wearing variety who seem intent on the fact that the police are racist and untrustworthy, Brexit is a bad thing, the government needs to put taxes up and spend way more (in fact they need to fund anything they are asked to fund) etc…etc. As the debate became heated during the Brexit question (specifically on the likelihood that no deal would not growing unlikely) I took the plunge and raised my hand in the air, deciding that the time had come to take Margaret Beckett down a peg or two.

Now, here’s the interesting thing. I typically don’t have a problem speaking in front of an audience. I wouldn’t say I love doing it or that I thrive on it, but I’m okay with it. Here, though, was a mixed audience – many of whom were not necessarily sympathetic to my general philosophy of low-government, small state, libertarian, anti-EU aspirations. Moreover, I had been sat on my now-numb backside for nearly two hours under the heat of studio lights and my mouth was dry. Then there was the small matter of being televised to an audience of millions (whoever missed the airing later that evening would be able to catch up on iPlayer – and perhaps a few thousand clips splashed across Twitter and YouTube over the coming days). As I held my aching arm in the air I then realized with a sudden dash of panic that I hadn’t actually formulated the wording of my question. This is quite an important consideration if you are ever contemplating joining a Question Time audience in the future. In the general course of my existence I ask quite a few questions and certainly make a number of points, but at no point am I ever placed on the spotlight to the extend where I have to mentally prepare then rehearse my actual phrasing. The gist of my point appears in my head and my mouth tends to do a decent job of articulating. Now, I’m no Rumpole of the Bailey and when I have an off-day I’m sure I’m capable of fluffing my lines, but even when garbling, I’m still able to deliver because, let’s face it, I’m hardly ever thrust into the sort of environment where this sort of thing really matters. And yet, here I was stuck to the rear of a crowd of strangers, being recorded by the BBC, about to make a point to one of the most recognised politicians of the past couple of decades.

Shit,” I thought. “What am I actually going to say?”

The gist of it was this – why can’t MPs still realise that had the starting point for negotiations with the EU been no deal (i.e. we’re going to walk away) and we had actually begun to prepare for that scenario then the likelihood of having been offered something way better from the EU would have increased – in the same way that you’ll only get a decent offer on a car if the dealership know you might not buy at all. At this late hour in the day to take it off the table altogether shows a complete lack of competence from so many of our elected representatives.

Instinctively, I had glimpsed a vision of delivering this to rapturous applause, with Margaret Beckett looking furious and Owen Jones looking sullen, then looking forward to days of my triumphant comment being shared across social media (I might even get an invite to go shooting with James Delingpole or perhaps an interview with the Spectator). In reality though, as I switched arms due to cramp, I realized that the greater likelihood lay in my ballsing my delivery up completely and becoming a laughing stock. Perhaps I’d get the deal / no deal wording the wrong way around, develop a spontaneous stammer, lose my voice or generally just mess up spectacularly. Or maybe I’d make my pointy adequately but to no applause, then to be shared online not by joyous Brexiteers but by the sneering remain class, the James O’Brien-loving FBPE po-faced offence-architects who would feast on my failure like a hoard of crazed Dementors.

Let me have a turn you b@stards!

As Fiona Bruce gave each panelist in turn an opportunity to speak, oscillating their voices with contributions from the audience I continued to keep my arm raised, trying to catch her attention, whilst trying to keep tabs on the exchange in case the wind was taken out of my sails, all the while trying to formulate my precise words. Alas, after several more audience points (including a couple of utterly vacuous offerings from another shawl-wearer and her friend the “woke” lefty social-justice warrior in the back row, the topic was moved on and my moment passed, somewhat to my relief.

The hour passed very quickly and when everything was finally wrapped up we simply had to wait in our seats for five minutes or so during which time the crew checked that nothing had to be re-recorded, then we were free to go. It was, as I say, an experience and I would recommend it purely for the insight into how these things are put together. If you are thinking of applying for a future program and want to speak then perhaps my advice will be of use, regardless of your political viewpoint. But I think I might continue to give Question Time a miss for the time being. 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

How to break the closed shop of exotic pursuits

James Delingpole recently wrote a piece in The Spectator magazine concerning his efforts at joining the country set, in which he describes having made some positive inroads in his quest to gain acceptance into the spectrum of countryside pursuits, not to mention the peripheral benefits that this status brings. Whilst Delingpole is much older than me and I suspect started on his journey from a considerably higher platform, I can empathise with his predicament. There is a magical lure to the ways of the countryside and an intoxicating aura about the countryside set, but the main reason for these exotic scents being so potent is because they are so damned inaccessible.

Want a tweed jacket? Easy, you can buy tweed-styled blazers at most formal clothing high street retail stores. Want a proper tweed jacket? I.e. one with a thick woolen density and proper cut? Your options are slashed to a handful of hideously expensive stores, usually located in West London, Bath or Harrogate.

Keen to try a new pastime? Fishing and shooting are not quite as accessible as other sports. You typically need some sort of lead to pursue and even something as relatively straightforward as fishing isn’t as straightforward as joining a club. Whilst you can certainly procure a license and toddle down to your local canal or fishing pool, some degree of coaching is required and this invariably involves knowing someone. 

Shooting game was until recently almost a complete closed shop and even now it costs a fortune for a common pleb to join an organized shoot. Clay pigeon shooting is of course readily accessible as a form of corporate entertainment or stag party; however, if you actually want to pursue it as a hobby, matters are somewhat trickier. A few weeks ago I took an early morning drive one Sunday to a remote farm not far from where I lived from which a dedicated Clay Pigeon shooting station is run. I had discovered that they offered a “have a go” stand so I parked up to find the field packed with cars and vans and an army of shooters making their way up to the building where the chaps runs the thing. I’ve never seen so many people in such an isolated place.

Despite being one of only three novices, I had a coaching session (shot quite a few clays much to my delight) then went for a walk around the stands, ruminating on how exactly all these people made the transition to “having a go” to owning a gun and becoming fully-fledged members of the club. I’m now contemplating going back on a few occasions, ostensibly to improve my skills but mainly to try and fathom how this shift takes place. To own a gun, one needs to obtain a firearms and shotgun licence but to justify the expense of firstly applying for this and then investing in a decent shotgun, one has to have access to a gun club or organized shoot. It’s a Catch 22 situation that genuinely makes me curious – and of course when it comes to shooting game that’s another level removed, something I will come back to in due course (though I still harbor the vague aspiration to one day attend a shooting holiday in the Highlands).

Fishing is next on the list and I have something in the diary in April to try this out. Rather like shooting, the entry-end of the fishing experience (dangling a clothes line and catching an old boot in the cut) is somewhat more accessible than the more aspirational end and I dare say that if I aspire to travelling to an Irish hideaway location for personal salmon fishing coaching with Mike Daunt, I might be waiting slightly longer.

Anything is possible though if you dare to dream. As an optimist, I’m of the view that if I turn up to enough places wearing my flat cap and country-attire then I’ll be in with the landed gentry, drinking single malt whiskey from a custom hamper out the back of an L322 Range Rover in no time. Or at least before I’m fifty.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Peppa Pig and (the elusive) Signor Stag

My children enjoy Peppa Pig and so do I. It is an easy cartoon to watch, there are enough episodes to ensure the same story is not repeated (all parents will vouch for this) and most importantly it seems to have (so far) escaped the tedious tendency for children’s programs to become politically-correct virtue-signaling exercises. If the television must be on and if it must be a children's program, then one can do much worse than Peppa Pig.

By consequence they posses a number of Peppa Pig toys and games, including a variation on the “Guess Who” game in which two players have to choose a character and then be the first to guess the identity of their opponent’s choice by asking a series of questions designed to eliminate the various options. Whenever I have played this game with my daughters I almost always go for one of the less obvious characters – so rather than Peppa, George or Daddy Pig this means Mr Bull or Mr Rhino or, on occasions, Signor Stag.

Here he is on the Guess Who Game:

Signor Stag, Peppa Pig Guess Who Game

Now, we know that Mr Bull is a binman who appears in the odd episode here and there, sometimes making a general racket early in the morning and waking everyone up, sometimes doing some construction work. We also know that Mr Rhino works for him. But Signor Stag? Who is he? There is literally no sign of him anywhere and the more times we have played the game the greater our curiosity becomes.

Emilia always claimed that she had seen Signor Stag during an early episode, but we took that with a pinch of salt because series one was unavailable on Netflix at the time and she couldn’t expand on what he was actually doing or any other detail. All of a sudden last week, however, after months of fruitless searching, she came running out of the playroom, shouting with joy and triumph that she had found him.

“Come and look, I’ve found Signor Stag!!!!”

Naturally I raced in and watched what I hoped would be a long and rewarding section of storyline to finally feature this mysterious character. What I saw however, was a clip of several seconds in which Signor Stag (a slightly hapless Italian with a spivy moustache) loans a car to Peppa Pig’s family. He only had a couple of lines, struggling to comprehend the family's request to hire a car (which is odd given that he runs a car hire shop - what else would they be requesting?), uttering “auto” and then “broom broom, peep peep,” before disappearing. We replayed it several times – Emilia found the whole thing (mainly his accent and odd demeanor) highly amusing.

Signor Stag's only known television appearance:

Signor Stag, only Peppa Pig episode we can find

Signor Stag, only Peppa Pig episode up close

Well, at least we’ve seen him. Once. Briefly.

The weird thing is that he doesn’t appear to be listed on any of the character lists for Peppa Pig, nor on any comprehensive Google searches, nor anywhere. And yet he does appear in an episode and he is a character in the Guess Who game. So why is Signor Stag so elusive?

Naturally, Emilia has sent an email to the Peppa Pig website asking for more information on him and for him to appear in another episode. We are nothing if not persistent, so we shall see…

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Green Belt Land and the Incompatibility of Freedom of Movement

It is now less than a couple of months until we leave the European Union.


We’ll see…

There were a great many reasons as to why the UK voted to leave (yes, we did vote to leave) and I’m not going to list these all again here. However, one of the main issues was freedom of movement and our ability to set our own controls upon levels of immigration, the context for which is the influx of low-skilled workers flooding the UK employment market, but also that our population density has risen to unprecedented levels.

I live in a small town on the western outskirts of the Black Country. I moved there when I married my wife a decade ago and now have two young children who are settled in a local school. Four years ago we moved house to one of the more sought-after roads in the neighbourhood (nice houses, close to the primary school, etc) and invested money in a property that we knew needed work but in which we intended to be in for a long time – in other words a real family home.

We exist right on the edge of the suburbs and despite the traffic to the east being heavily congested (i.e. my commute to work and the general direction of the rest of the country), the Worcestershire / Shropshire countryside (i.e. open green belt) is literally right on our doorstep. The A449 runs nearby and within a short drive we have the villages of Kinver and Enville and beyond that Bridgenorth and Ludlow. I am always discovering new places to visit with the children and more selfishly new outdoor pastimes. It is the rarest of things: un-spoilt land of yesteryear.

Last year I was added to a group on Facebook called “Friends of Ridgehill Woods.” Ridgehill Woods is a stretch of woodland to the rear of our property that can be seen for miles. Despite being a public thoroughfare it was actually owned privately and when the individual passed away it was sold to developers, who immediately started felling vast numbers of trees. By all accounts there was a legal agreement that many of these had to be replanted within five years, but in the meantime plans have been cynically drawn up for a huge development of 20k houses which will include the woodland. Naturally, this is being fought against, but we are not hopeful of success…

In the decade since I moved to the area, the traffic has continued to worsen as more housing developments are built and yet no new transport systems are added to cope with the level of demand. The increasing population does not merely place a burden upon the road network, but also of course schools, the health service and other services. There are never plans for new rail lines or road-widening projects: only new houses. 

Whether or not this development goes ahead, I dread to think what the future holds when it comes to the population density of the area as a whole – and indeed of many areas across England. It is frustrating to say the least when “debating” with remainers on social media who are ardently pro-freedom of movement that they point to research into immigration finding that it returns a net gain to the economy. How many of these studies factor in quality of life? How many of these studies look at the stretching point of congestion on the road, pinch points in traffic, demand for the best schools, etc? These are immeasurable in term of a quantifiable pound note value but of huge significance when it comes to how ordinary people feel.

I mention immigration not because I believe this to be the complete cause for the demand for new housing but because our population density is already among the highest in Europe and so it stands to reason that the people in this country want to have a say in controlling this. Supporters of the European Union seem to think that a set of common philosophies can and should be applied verbatim across all member states and that any opposition to this is the result of right-wing nationalism. The reality is however that quality of life in the UK has been eroded for a considerable amount of time by a stream of left wing federalist policies and if we fail to break free of these shackles at the end of March this year I dread to think where we will end up.

Another 20,000 poorly-built modern houses might seem of little consequence to others but I suspect that the issues on my doorstep are more than prevalent across the country. We are constantly informed that something like only 10% of the UK is “built on,” but that to me seems an extraordinarily dangerous mindset to possess. When one considers the sweeping highlands, moors, lakes, rivers, hills and mountains, not to mention farmland, parkland and playing fields, the remaining 90% is far too abstract a figure to throw around in the name of progress. At what point does that percentage become something to worry about? When all the towns, cities and villages of the UK are literally joined together? When the population density eclipses that of even Bangladesh or Taiwan? When the road system is so supremely gridlocked that we cannot pour cement into the gaping chasms of our countryside fast enough to assuage the growing mass of vehicles? When the entire landscape from north to south is awash with inefficient windturbines in a futile attempt at transferring our energy production to something our politicians feel is “the way forward?”

An economy and by extension a society should in my opinion be largely self-sustaining. That does not mean entirely cut off from civilization (trade, movement of people, politics, etc) but it does mean self-governing, self-regulatory and concerned with the quality of life of its citizens in all senses verses supporting the ideological drive of organisations such as the EU, whose aims ultimately mean the acceptance of a gradual and terminal decline of standards in the futile name of progress.

Between now and the 29th March I expect very few of the 650 MPs in Westminster to have this in mind when it comes to their actions and intentions; I can only hope that our destination is not reliant on their squabbles and we can finally set about governing our own land in accordance with our own needs. 

Friday, 18 January 2019

Would we be better off self-policing our conversations?

A decade ago or thereabouts I joined YouTube for the first time. This was in the era of social media excitement; when the idea of a website in which people could share all sorts of rare clips for free was as joyous and inspiring as a website in which anybody could sell their unwanted items or a site on which one could renegade with old school friends. In other words this was the unspoilt, innocent era of digital before it all got ruined.

My era of innocent was to last a mere week or two before I deleted my account. The incident in question was so utterly ridiculous that it almost begs me not to retell it, but for the purposes of this post I must. I found myself browsing through a succession of rugby videos and stumbled upon one of Richard Hill being caught offside during a Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh around the turn of the millennium. I can’t recall the exact year off the top of my head but it was the one England lost (and with it the chance to win the Grand Slam). The poster had revelled in the fact that, not only had Hill been caught offside and his team lost, but he was also given a “damn good shoeing” as well. A couple of minor points to note here should you not be familiar with the finer details of rugby union, firstly that it is accepted practice that a player (especially a forward) is considered fair game to receive a proportionate level of violent retribution should he be seen to deliberately be lying on the wrong side of a ruck and therefore slowing the ball down illegally. Secondly that Richard Hill was one of the finest players England has ever produced and probably one of the greatest flankers the world has ever seen - certainly one of my favourite players. With all this in mind, I decided to offer my opinion that, although this was not his finest hour, perhaps the poster could have attempted to have better reflected Hill’s abilities and achievements without resorting to a cheap shot combination of a less-than-flattering video clip and highly derogatory and goading language. I can’t recall my exact words but they were fairly reasonable and certainly didn’t contain any swearing or taunts.

Within a day I checked back to find that the poster had replied to my comment. In fact there were a couple of comments. The first was akin to something an illiterate teenager from a kitchen sink estate would write, basically insulting me in crude, barely legible language. The second wished me cancer. 

Well, what do you say to that?

I can’t honestly recall whether or not I responded to that but within a few days I decided to shut my account down. What was the point of joining a website on which these sorts of comments are casually cast under the cloak of anonymity on such frivolous topics? Life’s too short I thought sadly, before turning my attention to other matters of interest. It was only a matter of time, however, before I relented and created a brand new account, deciding that I could at least turn a blind eye to comments in order to avoid denying myself the greater benefit of access to some great content on YouTube. 

That has largely been my policy since that moment in time - indeed I still have my YouTube account and I rarely bother to comment, content simply to watch without passing comment. I often reflected on that initial experience, however, and came to the quick conclusion that there were simply a number of inadequate, quite odd individuals who had suddenly been given free reign (ie an equal voice) by the introduction of such sites on the internet. In years gone by these people would be confined to mumbling incoherently to themselves but now they can type away their insane ramblings on a multitude of web platforms in what is a side-consequence (perhaps a small price to pay) of social media websites for the masses to enjoy.

My experience since then has led me to revise this view. Of course, I still believe that there are some deeply odd people out there, that much has not change, nor is it ever likely to. But I have of late reflected on the fact that conversation in general tends to be shepherded in artificial directions when it comes to digital exchange and this is in stark contrast to the way in which we always used to operate. As a reference point I have watched the Billy Connolly programs on BBC iPlayer in the past few days and was fascinated to listen to his description of some of the Glaswegian pubs he frequented as a young man. These were environments far removed from the sanitised buildings that most boozers can now be described as, each with their own idiosyncratic tendencies; their own characteristic ways, their own characters. What they all had in common though was that they offered a place in which men could sit, relax and talk about whatever it was that took their fancy. Sure, this would mostly involve staple topics such as football, work and women, but ultimately nothing was off the agenda if it was interesting enough to make its way in between the mouthfuls of ale.

There were rules though. Unwritten though they may have been they did exist in order to govern the exchange of thoughts and ideas of all those who frequented the taverns of the land as deeply ingrained as the scratches on the tables and the stains on the bar:

- Basic manners. 
- Respect. 
- Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.

Okay, fair enough, but there is nothing especially unique about these - most institutions hold these as a given. Moreover, though, there were other things to consider that gave the aforementioned a greater context:

- People have a right to privacy
- If you don’t know someone, be careful about what you say to them or about them
- Any problems are dealt with there and then.

As such, this was the law of the jungle. You can see three blokes propped up at the bar, talking bollocks and drinking pints. You might not agree with what they say. You might vehemently oppose their views. But it’s a pub. They’ve come for a drink. What good will come from approaching them and challenging their opinions? Besides which, they are reasonably drunk and quite big blokes. It might not end well. You certainly don’t want to call them a cunt.

Punch ups would take place and of course I’m not advocating open and free violence to blossom throughout the land. But this firm of self-policing had its benefits. For a start, one tended not to engage on unknown topics with unknown people. Conflicts were for the most part avoided on the basis that there was sufficient variety of thought and opinion for everyone to get on in their own groups without fighting breaking out every five minutes (indeed, many people might just fancy the idea of a “quiet pint” during which talking was not a sought after requirement). Any issues that did occur were (and this is the important bit) dealt with there and then. They did not linger, fester or grow to the point of bitterness and resentment. Pubs were forums for debate in person should drinkers wish to chat and the consequence of forcing outlandish views in the non-digital face-to-face era would often involve the very effective deterrent of a punch in the face.

One might consider how different the likes of Twitter would be if everyone viewed debate via the lens of the old fashioned pub. Instead, because the jeopardy of physical retribution and more importantly the desire for basic manners have been removed, anything goes. It doesn’t help of course that statements are limited to a small number of characters, very often with complex arguments being bypassed in favour of one-click emojis and easy-accessible gifs. There is something quite exhausting about a lengthy exchange of opposing views during a well-managed debate; at the end if the two opposing factions could fast to their opinions then they may as well shake hands and walk away, agreeing to disagree, but at least hopeful that they managed to snare some “floating thinkers” during the course of the exercise. When one compares this with an exchange on Twitter, is it any wonder that death threats and such like are so readily tossed about when in the space of several seconds one finds that a mocking response to their perfectly reasonable statement has been retweeted around the world (by “world” of course I mean all those who hold the oppose view and who regard those on the other side of the argument as vermin). It’s easy to see how anxiety and stress can quickly creep in if one is typically inclined to respond to all notifications and to feel the need to check in on what the latest reaction is to their comment. 

This phenomenon predates the likes of Twitter in the medium of emails - and by that I mainly refer to work emails. When it comes to the exchange of thoughts, issues and ideas via email with ones work colleagues, the outcomes are different to what we frequently see on Twitter (at least for now) but the dynamics are compatible - resentment, anxiety, irritation and regret. Most people have a starting point to their working day and an end point and those of us who are motivated to succeed will naturally do all they can to make the right things happen during that period of time. When it is time to depart the physical location in which one works, the actual conversations finish for the day, but of course the digital conversations can continue. Naturally, this is often be a useful and necessary lever to ensure that messages arrive in time and employees can catch up when needed, but in many cases this leads to digital trigger syndrome where all the safety catches I described in the pub scenario are removed and it becomes just too tempting to send a follow up. The problem is of course is that it’s a follow up composed when the sender is tired, perhaps resentful and operating without the insurance policy of having “live” people around to sense check their words. There is then the stress of having ones downtime agonising over when the response will come and what it will contain. My conclusion has been to switch off my work emails from my mobile device after I finish for the day on the basis that if there is something of such urgency that my immediate attention is required prior to the start of the next working day that someone will call me directly. Such occurrence is not unknown but is so infrequent that this approach has by definition proved itself to be a preferable policy to having emails constantly running 24/7 with the temptation of reading and replying dangling all too attractively before me.

When it comes to Twitter, since my shut down last year I have occasionally had breaks and I’ve found the best way to enforce these it by actively deleting the app from my phone. It’s easy enough to reinstall and it’s only by removing the ability to touch the thing that I truly ignore it for whatever period of time I deem fit. There are those who are perfectly adept and at ease with switching off to most of the conversations, but I am not one of those, at least it does not come naturally. Likewise, it’s all well and good to hold the view that we should simply turn the other cheek when presented with inflammatory comments and general goadery as these people will soon stop if they fail to elicit a reaction. There is something in that, but of course this is when I refer back to the self-policing argument of yesteryears pub; sooner rather than later the goader would receive a whack for his efforts and would fall into line with the rest of the boozers; that is to say they all have their own views, some moderate, some extreme, some held passionately, some held casually, but they apply the “is it worth it” filter before voicing.

I think it worked rather well. Of course, what this probably boils down to is our ability to switch off and lets things go. Mine could do with some further adjustments...