The BBC seem to have a habit these days of putting the best sites on in the middle of the day and then ditching them for low viewing figures!
They did it last year with The Coroner. If have loved to be on that myself, shooting around Dorset & Devon. Fab!
Then, they had Shakespeare &Hathaway. Lovely detective series about a private investigator and his new sidekick.
And now I find a retiree friend of mine asks me if “800 Words” is really like life is in New Zealand?
‘What’s “800 words”?’ I ask.
It’s a new (-ish… It’s been going for 2 series already!!) TV series from South Pacific Pictures co-produced with Australia’s Channel 7 Production company.
Now I’m already sold…SPP were responsible for a TV series I adored when I lived there, “Outrageous Fortune” (Incidentally starring among others Anthony Starr who went to the States and was in “Banshee”).
“800 Words” is a fish-out-of-water story about an Aussie journalist (he writes a regular column for a Sydney paper and anally sticks to exactly 800 words per column like some unquestioned OCD affliction… hence the title) seeks a new life in small-town New Zealand after the sudden death of his wife.
Not only do his children not like the idea much; he then has to deal with cultural differences between Australia & New Zealand, and the contrast of big city Sydney and small town ‘Weld’ – fictional, mind you.
Retiree friend asks if this made up town is typical of small-town NZ.
I say, it’s typical of small-town ANYWHERE. Transplant this story to a Londoner moving to West Wales, or a New Yorker moving to Iowa, and there will still be cultural and lifestyle differences these storylines could fit in to.
But watching 800 words brings back memories of living in NZ which is the other reason it appeals to me. I don’t know if I was happier there than anywhere else, but this nostalgia, this ‘hiraeth’ seems a little stronger; but then that’s the appeal to me, not to a general wider audience.
Watch it if you’re interested in New Zealand – the accents, attitudes, Maori integration into everyday culture, and the locations and the landscapes are typical. Watch it if you’re intrested in fish-out-of-water stories. Watch it.
The beach used as the surfing beach – is world famous – in New Zealand. It’s Piha, on the West coast, over the Waitakere ranges from Auckland. It’s in the guide books and tourist information. What isn’t though, as far as I know, found by accident on one trip over is a cafe en route called ‘Elevation’. It looks pretty regular from the front. And the food is ok – what you’d expect from a roadside cafe, if not a little better. After you enter, however, and choose a table at the back, preferably outside on the deck, which protrudes out from the side of the mountain range so it feels like you’re sitting on Tarzan’s tree-house; the view of Auckland city is spectacular.
But that’s besides the point. Why are these gems of television being hidden away at 2-3pm when most of us are working or else otherwise tied up with the demands of the day? My erratic schedule allowed me to watch some of Shakespeare&Hathaway on days where I was going to pick the children up from school; in which case, it saw me leaving 10 mintues before the end and having to catch the conclusion on BBC iPlayer later on. Or never.
By the time Shakespeare&Hathaway had finished I wasn’t even aware that 800 words had taken the slot until someone else told me about it and this week it’s become our must-binge-watch programme of the evenings after the children are in bed.
Now I know the way we (in general, as a worldwide industrialised-nations viewership) watch TV is changing. We watch mostly on-demand, when we want to. The BBC appear to be catching up….programmes tagged as ‘BBCThree’ productions don’t actually exist on the ‘real world of TV’ since BBCThree moved exclusively ‘online’ (i.e. BBCThree is basically a section of BBCiPlayer). Recently, BBCWales seems to be putting an awful lot of weight on how well ‘Keeping Faith’ went down with online audiences, given that it was only broadcast within the confines of the BBCWales region in English (and S4C in Welsh), so the only way viewers who couldn’t pck up BBCWales (numbers of whom must be dwindling these days as more and more set-top boxes and smart-TVs give everyone the myriad of freeview channels available wherever you are regardless of regionality).
But still, I wouldn’t have known to go looking for “800 Words” on BBC iPlayer had someone not told me about it.
I can remember being a fan of various shows as I was growing up. There were special shows for which I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime (“Fame” and “Dempsey & Makepeace” I seem to recall). There were shows that during my teens allowed me to escape teen angst and the growing pains of, like “Quantum Leap“. (Weird teenage hormones … couldn’t decide if I was watching it because I fancied Sam or Al the most … eh?!!), but those were my pre-internet days. In fact, it got cancelled before I got so hooked on it that I realised I was such a fan. Then they started re-runs. And I started writing spin-offs in my head. I guess that would be what is now known as Fan-Fiction. I did a LOT more of that, before I came to learn of the term ‘fan-fiction’.
Due South was my first passionate following, and it happened to be not only right when the internet was making it big, but when I had my first full-time job, which happened to give me constant computer access (I worked in the 151 faults call-center for BT at the time). Remember, this was the days before Facebook (What? You mean there was a time Facebook didn’t exist? O.M.G.!); the days before seemingly everyone had a computer at home, a laptop in their bag and a computer-phone in their pocket.
Yes, I know, these days it seems like so long ago. And recently when someone reminded me it was TWENTY YEARS … yes, 2-0 years, since Due South first aired, I realised that, yes, it actually WAS so long ago. When I was little, it seemed like an age before I would be 20. Now I’m so far past it, it seems like equally an age ago.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the early days of what we now think of as ‘The Internet’. Not the REAL early days, when simple binary message were being sent from black screen to black screen in robotic green typefaces; but when there were forums and chat-groups, and long before any type of instant messenger (remember Yahoo Messenger when it was WOW and NEW and FAB?), when a whole conversation consisted of one-line emails … and I had nothing else to do on the internet; in between calls, on quiet days (for example, it was my first full-time job, I was a moody young person, not yet 20, who couldn’t WAIT for an excuse to escape the good old ‘family Christmas’. So I volunteered for the Christmas Day shift. I sat there for 10 hours and took 2 calls. And one of those was trying to order a takeaway but got the wrong number…).
Do you remember the first ever thing you ‘looked up’ when you got the internet? (Come on, I don’t think there was even Google back then, so you couldn’t have ‘Googled’ anything. I’m pretty sure Yahoo! was EVERYTHING. Unless you were in the U.S.A and had AOL. )
Well, I’m pretty convinced mine was Due South. Seriously, I can’t think of ANYTHING else I was doing on the internet in those days.
A couple of years before, I’d actually expanded my fandom into getting in to contact with other fans, via that old fashioned medium of ‘snail-mail’. There was a short lived, international magazine called E-TV, which specialised in niche-TV shows, like emergency shows and cop shows (E.R., NYPD Blue,). My parents ran a newsagent at the time and I found this on the shelf one day and this particular edition had an article on Due South in it. On the ‘letters’ page (remember those?) there was some guy in Canada who was looking for international pen-friends. I don’t think he was specifically talking Due South but I just cottoned on to the ‘CANADA’ underneath his letter and decided to write. I can’t believe that was so long ago. We sent articles back and forth in the post, about UK shows he’d heard of and seen, and he would write back about Canadian stuff, and Due South.
So, back to the internet. So, I looked up ‘due South, and found a mailing list (I suppose the modern equivalent would be a Facebook group!), which basically consisted of group emails flying about. Discussing Due South, the storylines, the characters, the actors and their other work. And anything remotely related. There could be hundreds of emails a day, I’d have a separate window open behind my work screen and be carrying on a conversation. Don’t forget – of course it would be against everyone’s ‘Internet usage at work‘ policies by now (probably thanks to me!!) but back then, there was no precedent for this. And, even back then I was quite good at multi-tasking, I was still getting pretty good call-handling and file-updating targets and whatever else, despite carrying on an email conversation about a Mountie and a deaf wolf at the same time. Pretty sure they knew … they’re not stupid, but since it wasn’t interfering with my productivity; and to be honest, it was probably enhancing my PC literacy skills beyond anything they could teach me!
I didn’t do it all on company time, however. There was an Internet Cafe nearby. It’s where I would go after work, spend an hour or so. I had an electric word processor at home, which I used to write on. I figured out how to convert what I wrote on there to ASCII text, on a floppy disk. So, I could save a load of emails, mainly the longer ones; at the internet cafe, onto a floppy, take them home, read through them, write some equally long and insightful responses, then on my next trip to the internet cafe, (After the man at the desk had dutifully scanned the floppy for viruses) I could upload the ASCII text files, copy and paste them into an email and that was my contribution to the mailing list…without spending paid for hours at the internet cafe typing it all out!
Goodness, until I started this post I’d not even thought of that little place in years. It wasn’t one of these glossy chain places you might see these days. It was upstairs above an old betting shop or something, a rickety staircase into what was probably a converted living room, with some old tables and creaky floorboards and cheap industrial carpet. There was a castle across the road so the view from the small pokey windows was quite cool.
As a result of that first venture into internet fandom, internet groups and the like, two of my oldest friendships were formed. Well, three, if you include the guy from Canada. Who is still there. I’m still in touch with him; he joined the same internet DS group, and since Facebook (well, hasn’t everyone?). I’ve still never met him in person; but even if I never do, I’d consider him a ‘friend’ rather than an ‘acquaintance’. Incidentally, he occasionally dips is toe in the blogging waters too.
But on the other two counts, we have met. Three of us, girls (ladies) of similar age; similar tastes in TV and literature. We have sporadic but almost regular ‘meet-ups’ (when I’m not living in far flung corners of the world). All because we started chatting randomly on this email list some 15-16 years ago…
Sometimes, well, not so much any more, but I used look at events like ‘Comic Con’ and other fan-centric conventions as being solely the domain of ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ … well, they are, I suppose but being one of those is becoming more popular and less … erm… geeky (Don’t ask). And a few years ago, probably wouldn’t have admitted to having any part in ‘internet fandom’ – surely geeking over something online is just as bad as doing it in ‘real-life’. Except, they’re both ingrained now. whatever happens on the internet can so easily be ‘real-life’. And usually is. And, in western society, rarely does anything happen that is not somehow related to the internet, the use of the internet, or else be photographed or written about on the internet.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m grateful to have been there from the early days. Maybe not the very start, but close enough. Before the madness REALLY took hold. What brought this home to me, really, was an older relative, after I showed him how to use his newest smart-phone, asking how I’d learned computer and internet stuff. Because he’d done ‘a computer course’ (and we all know, computer courses aimed at the older generation consist of how to turn the computer on, set up a Hotmail address, send a basic email, use Word and maybe another MS Office program… but even then, I had to show him once how to add a photo as an attachment to an email…). And really, there was ‘an IT room’ in school but we didn’t really delve into I.T. that much…it hadn’t really caught on that much before I left school (am I showing my age now?). I mean, I did a secretarial course, which included word-processing on a ‘computer’ (yup…black screen, green robotic writing…); but the only time we spent in the ‘I.T.’ room was some of the lads drawing rude phallic pictures on ‘Paint’, and using the time to type up essays and print them out.
So, basically, I have DueSouth to thank for my modern take on computer and internet literacy.
Oh, and if you were wondering if I ever worked out who I fancied most out of Sam or Al … Nope. Jury’s still out on that one.
Look, if you’re gonna say “SAM of course” …. maybe it’s just the uniform…
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing – I’ve been working on the novels; and the comedy-drama series. I’ve been writing some other stuff that can only be filed under “Fan-Fiction” since that’s pretty much all they’ll ever be, just to get fanciful ideas out of my head so I can concentrate on the other stuff!
And I’ve been mulling it over as to what the heck I could blog about.
I’ve been racking my brains for something mundane and intricate; some profound insight into my hum-drum every day existence; since reading about a friend and his need for a new armchair . Why does such a need never occur to me to be something to write about?
And then … I realise that whilst pondering this lack of a subject, I am sat in the green room at the BBC studios; or in a converted diner-car bus on the back lot of what was formerly the set of the Starz TV series Da Vinci’s Demons.
I realise that what leads me to ponder my lack of published posts was a letter telling me my latest smear test came back as abnormal. What if I suddenly die and there’s nothing left behind on the inter-abyss to prove I could actually string a sentence together? I’ve spent a lifetime telling people I wanted to be a writer; but that wouldn’t be my legacy if I was gone tomorrow.
It hit me like a bus that I’ve been searching too hard for something to write about, when stuff has been staring me right in the face: I grew up on a cargo ship. I’ve been working as a TV extra. I’m in the process of dealing with a Cancer scare. Oh, and this Christmas I’ll be Mrs Claus again … now there’s four things to be getting on with.
And then there’s randomly connecting with interesting strangers on forums like Twitter – who knew that people still go prospecting in the wilds of the U.S.A? So, my ‘normal’ existence might not be so ‘normal’ to everyone, after all…