Friday, 29 October 2010

Take these chains from my inbox

Puzzling phenomenon, the chain letter or email. The principle is the same as the pyramid sell, but the manifesto with the chain tends to protest an innocuous or even virtuous purpose, and sometimes a mystical engine, which only makes it all the weirder that, invariably, just before bidding farewell, the writer pauses to take a stab at blackmail.
You know the kind of thing – a mortally ill child, send on to six mates, a business card and a couple of quid, eternal good fortune; oh, break the chain and ditto your arm.
A friend of mine and I got peripherally caught up in one the other day. Here’s our correspondence:
This came through this morning from a kind, if slightly batty, friend and having a moment to consider such things I thought I’d pass it on.
Of course I did hesitate about sending it, but let me know if you get some money in 4 days time....

“An interesting fact about October 2010: This October has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays, all in 1 month. It happens once in 823 years. These are money bags. Pass them to 8 good people and money will appear in 4 days. Based on Chinese fengshui. Whoever stops this will experience none”
What I like (my friend continued) about this is the generous melding of concepts:
Subject: “An interesting fact”
But what exactly is a fact?
5 Fridays, Saturdays etc – observable, numerical fact
Occurs once in 823 years observable, numerical, ‘well fancy that’ (but to me, unprovable) type fact
These are money bags – um, er, courageous, logic defying, imaginative leap.
Pass them on to 8 good people imperative command with an implicit assumption that I know 8 good people. Off the top of my head I know 5 really good people, 2 quite nice people and one total shit. Though, on further thought, perhaps were I to send him a money bag he might be a little nicer.
Money will appear in 4 days - a definite and impressively specific forecast but not quite a fact.
Based on Chinese Fengshui an appeal for spiritual legitimacy but a little disappointing. I was hoping for Mexican Fengshui.
Whoever stops this will experience none - ah yes the threat. But as the threat of no money is ‘situation normal’ at this end I shall do my best to try to relax.
P.S. Don’t pass this on and something quite good will happen one day (based on ancient knowledge as revealed in the Dagenham Book of the Dead)

To which I replied:
“Your annotations turn this from a rather bizarre drift on a sea of fantasy into something amusing, and who knows, we could all do with a bit of luck, though what do we do if the money turns up in promissory notes for Renminbi, encashable only in the People’s Republic of China during the occasional Leap Month (number 13) of Shí-Sān Yuè?
“The interesting fact about the interesting fact is that it isn’t that interesting, given that in a month of 31 days the probability that you will get a trio of consecutive days making five appearances surely can’t be that remote? December this year, for example, has five Wednesdays, five Thursdays and five Fridays, and these begin auspiciously with Wednesday December 1 and end with Friday December 31; and blow me down, January 2011 has five Saturdays, five Sundays, and five Mondays, and these also begin and end, spookily, on the 1 & 31... surely these are both (or all) more than money bags. Bullion caves?
“Did you send this just to me, or did you find the eight good souls commanded by your friend (and was the friend, by the way, male or female – I’m curious to know)?”
My friend’s answer:
Personally being a superstitious sort I never send daft e-mails in a week with a Friday in it.
The friend is female – mostly.
Sent just to you. Then, moments after hitting “send”, because I have to check just when the £730 bill for my car prang in Greece was paid, I am forced to open my on-line accounts. I don’t want to do this because I am in the red and slipping further that way every week. I don’t want to see the figures.
Then discover the hire company somehow muddled the bill and ended up deducting the car hire from the bill i.e. cost of prang was a measly £130.
But there’s more... I look and find that I have just been paid £630 in unexpected royalties – hey presto I’m out of the red.
The mystic karma of sending the e-mail to one good person worked.
So here’s to my new Mexican Feng Shui business: Mules, ponchos and empty Tequila bottles carefully re-aligned. Rates on request.

But alas, in an email that evening:
Later that same day.... I look at some old e-mails and realise that you paid for the car hire and I reimbursed you so after conversion the repair bill was in fact £630...
Then on way to doctors I find a £5 note on the pavement....
But whilst at docs I break my watch (£30)..
Mexican Feng Shui business – closed due to retrograde cosmic influences.
Must find seven more good people.

The following day I was able to write:
“Well blow me down – I just got an email from Mr Fred Uzoma, who turns out to be my file and welfare officer at World Bank Creditors, who tells me I’ve won US$5-million in compensation (not sure what for, but hey)!!! And another from Mr Simon Dornoo, Managing Director of the Ghana Commercial Bank Ltd, offering me 40 per cent of US$35.4-million which was deposited by two blokes from Enron who subsequently turned up their toes!!!!!”
A few hours later, in my dentist’s waiting room, I did find 15p down the side of a chair.
“Those who believe that the world of being is governed by luck or by chance are far removed from the divine” – Plotinus, Enneads VI.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

It was nineteen years ago today...

The wooden eggs are still there on the roof, a perch for seagulls and an enigma for the young. The vertical metal lettering at the front of the building, however, has been obscured by four fat blue discs.
Lorraine Kelly and Mike – Mike who, for heaven’s sake? I sat with him at lunch in the Camden Bistro while he raged, close to tears, I thought, at the injustice of the auction in which TVAM had been stripped of its franchise. Now I’ve forgotten his name.
Nineteen years ago today, October 16, I was in Plymouth, sitting in an office with Nick Smith, Pete Colebrook and Tom Goodison. It was a grim morning, soot-coloured clouds rolling down from the Hoe. We were watching the internal TV service. Harry Turner, our MD, stepped up to the microphone.
“We’ve lost,” said Tom, before Harry said a word. And we had. TSW was history. So were Thames, TVS and TVAM. We went to a pub called The Bank and got drunk on Mr Bass’s bitter and Mr Bell’s whisky.
Mike Morris. Thank you, Google. Apparently he went off to work for Yorkshire TV. Funny, that. I thought he was one of the best network performers. Couldn’t understand, in the bistro, a week or so after Franchise Day, why he was so upset. The BBC or ITN or Carlton were bound to bag him, I thought. You don’t know, do you?
The ITV Franchise Auction was the last zany, picaresque wheeze thought up by Margaret Thatcher. Even she realised in the end that it was nuts, and apologised to Bruce Gyngell, the TVAM boss. The conclusion of the process was, of course (and as predicted), the consolidation of ITV into the sorry and pointless monolith most of us have now stopped watching, via the destruction of that subtle amalgam of regional identities which was the essence of its brand.
Here’s a story I’ve never told. A year before, I made a film for the ITV network about a Soviet spy, Ruth Werner, aka Ursula Kuczynski, aka Sonia, who’d retired from her trade and was living in East Berlin.
We had a deal with the Sunday Times that they’d run a feature about her to coincide with our transmission. Only, a couple of weeks before the scheduled date, the ITV network bumped our documentary into the following month.
I had the task of persuading the deputy editor of the ST, a guy called Brian MacArthur, to hold back the splash he’d prepared for the front page of the News Review.
Since I was lobbing a grenade into his own schedule, he was understandably cross with me. Very cross.
Remember that this conversation was taking place before our franchise submission was written, let alone lodged with the Independent Television Commission.
Brian’s (extremely cross) parting words on the telephone were these: “I know which ITV companies are going to lose their franchises. And TSW is one of them.”
Weird, eh?