SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Over the past week or so, I’ve been fending off the raddled harridans at the palace gates, exhausting work,  so it’s time to take a break, and if it were that time of the year, to kick off my shoes and feel the grass beneath my feet.

I have been doing some housekeeping and general maintenance.  I wandered into Twitter and checked out the many tweets over my controversial article on drink and consent to the sexual act.  I am amazed and gratified in equal measure over the number of positive tweets, but also dismayed over the few offensive tweets from people who struggle with the English language.  They either don’t or can’t read English, but this doesn’t seem to discourage them from saying something, anything, to get attention.

Whilst trawling through my tweets, I came across one from David Cameron in conversation with Evgeny Lebedev, “Privyet i dobro pozhalovat Tovarishch” as they say east of the Urals, and in case you didn’t know, Tovarishch Lebedev is Russian, and he is not alone in London’s fair city.  You may know that Tovarishch Lebedev is the owner of the Evening Standard (if you can’t sell it, give it away!) and his headquarters can be found in Northcliffe House.  He also owns London Live, a local television channel bringing news and views to London. What you may not know is that Northcliffe House is also home to the Daily Wail, so it’s standing room only.

I know all this because I was invited by London Live to say a few words.  Northcliffe House has a very grand entrance hall, rather like Selfridges, and there the similarity ends.  From then on, it’s all down hill.  On my way to the studio, I was escorted through an enormous room full of monitors and people monitoring them.  It couldn’t have been anything to do with the Evening Standard, as they have an editor and two newshounds and that’s it, but it looked spooky, like something out of Brave New World.

I had this romantic ‘tinsel town’ notion of television, like the movies, with elaborate sets and Greta Garbo and John ‘Marion’ Wayne drifting in and out, but the reality is altogether more mundane.  The studio where ‘This Morning’ is recorded is plywood and plaster board and smoke and mirrors. It is reached from the street by a service entrance with old boxes and tyres scattered about, then it’s through a warehouse full of junk, and out through a fire door into the studio complex.  Rather disappointing to an ‘out-of-towner’ like me, and as I had arrived at least two hours before I was needed, I was parked in a broom cupboard.  All very seedy.

By all appearances, David Cameron and Tovarishch Lebedev were in earnest conversation in the very broom cupboard I had so recently occupied. The online message was that Putin can be brought to heel.  Hope springs eternal!

TWITTER BEWARE

At first blush, Twitter is one of those social networking sites specifically designed for Twits, and by all accounts, living up to their name.  They use the site to leave offensive messages which in any other medium would be illegal, and in some cases criminal, yet they seem to think they have carte blanche to write what they like.  They are restricted to 140 words, but that doesn’t stop them from purveying their prejudices in spades.

Twitter seems to exercise very little control over their users or the content of their messages.  They argue that they don’t have the time (or inclination) to monitor daily use, which on an average day can reach several thousand, if not more. But the argument that they cannot slay the monster they have created is a feeble excuse in the great scheme of things.

There are times when enough is enough, and the strong arm of the law is brought to bear on some of these Twits.  One in particular is Paul Chambers, who found himself in court and convicted under the Communications Act 2003. In his Tweet, he threatened to blow his local airport sky high if they didn’t get their act together, and he is awaiting the outcome of his appeal even as I write.

His appeal has been taken up by Al Murray, a fairly robust comedian, and Stephen Fry, who is…er…Stephen Fry, known to many without really knowing why.  With friends like these, who needs enemies, as the expression goes.

I also wonder how these offensive tweets are discovered.  Is there some poor news hound in a back office in Wapping, who is given the luckless task of trawling through Tweets to find something worth publishing?

Al Murray has written an impassioned article railing against the legal system and invoking the Magna Carta and freedom of speech.  According to the robust Murray, the offensive tweet is akin to “pub banter”, but that cut no ice with the court that convicted Chambers. The law is the law.  If you commit yourself to print, whether on a blog, a Tweet, or a website, where it can be found, then you have nobody but yourself to blame when the shit hits the fan.

It may well be that Paul Chambers didn’t mean a word of what he tweeted, and his conviction has all the hallmarks of overkill.  He may win his appeal, but there is a salutary lesson to be learned by all Twits.  Keep your opinions to yourself if they are likely to cause offence. 

However, I am persuaded by my daughter Sarah that when used responsibly, Tweets are a good way of communicating with a wider readership and generating a meaningful dialogue.  There are times when Sarah shows wisdom beyond her years, so I’m going to immerse myself in the heady waters of Twittering, and I will report back on my experiences.  Who knows, it may not be too late to teach an old dog new tricks, so watch this space, and if you get a Tweet from me, be surprised and delighted in equal measure.

 

SIGN LANGUAGE

Like the curate’s egg, the Internet is good in parts. It’s a mine of information, but most of it totally irrelevant. Spam, scam and junk are all over me like a cheap suit, and I spend many hours each week deleting when I should be doing something more constructive. At the moment, my inbox is awash with messages, mainly from Nigeria and Hong Kong, telling me I’ve won a fortune on the lottery, or a relative has recently died leaving a substantial fortune which, on payment of ‘shipping’ fees, will be shared with me. At least those emails asking me if I was pleased with the size of my love tool seem to have subsided.

But my reflections on the Internet arise in part from the arrival of the Legal Services Commission newsletter, and a jolly good read it is too. My eye caught a link entitled ‘legal advice in sign language now available,’ and I simply had to know more.

Here in Merry Olde England we have one sign which is particularly popular, and used extensively instead of verbal communication. I refer, of course, to the ‘V’ sign, using the first two fingers of either hand. Apparently it has its origins in the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, which raged on and off in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Tales of derring do in the battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt spring to life from the pages of history, when English longbowmen swatted the French like flies with an artillery of arrows raining down upon them. It was regarded by the French as ‘simply not cricket,’ very unsporting, but then, when you’re on the losing side, that’s easy to say. Anyway, when English archers were captured, their captors cut off their first two fingers, thus preventing them from drawing their bows. Those who escaped this particularly gruesome punishment raised two fingers to the French as a gesture of defiance, or so the story goes.

The Americans, less adroit than us, use only one finger, which can be loosely translated as “up yours.”

So back to the LSC and legal advice in sign language. It has endless possibilities, particularly when the client doesn’t like the advice he’s given. It’s called ‘putting your finger on, up, in it.’

Postscript: I am informed by a website called Twitter that my blog is being followed by some of its members. I have no recollection of joining Twitter, but I must have done, although I can’t for the life of me remember why. Anyway, to my many friends and colleagues on Twitter, especially across the Pond, Hello.