Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Knock On Effect

One of the reasons why I love my job is because I get to work on such a variety of projects and meet such a diverse range of people. Yesterday was once such example, when I had the privilege to meet 17-year-old Rosie Kilburn, who is from my neck of the woods in the good old Westcountry.

Rosie has a rare form of liver cancer, but instead of letting it get her down it has spurred her on to launch a sustainable fundraising project called 'The Knock On Effect'. Initially, Rosie aims to run an art auction, and she's already received loads of donated pieces to sell at the auction in July. She then intends to design a range of funky T-shirts, with cool yet inspiring messages on them to raise awareness of various issues. I saw one of her designs yesterday and it was very impressive. All of the money she will make from these ventures will be donated to various cancer charities.

To help get the project off the ground - and also to share her everyday experiences - Rosie's launched a blog, and she was invited to the Guardian to get some ideas for how to spread the word about her project and get more people to visit her site. This is where I came in, and I shared as much of my knowledge as I could in 30minutes, but above anything else it was such a pleasure to meet someone so genuine, focused and enthusiastic, yet so incredibly modest at the same time.

Please do take a look at Rosie's blog and find out more about The Knock On Effect. If you know of any budding artists who'd like to donate a piece or two for her forthcoming auction then you can also get in touch with her via the site.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Tunnel 228 = blimin great

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing my ever-informative Twitter feed when the Londonist mentioned something called 'Tunnel 228'. Intrigued, I clicked on the link to discover a rather garish website that seemingly belonged to a train tunnel cleaning company. At first I thought that the url was wrong, but upon further investigation I discovered that most of the links on the website were inactive, apart from one rather inconspicuous link at the foot of the page, which opened up a whole new window, urging me to 'book tickets'. But 'book tickets for what?', I wondered. A quick Google search informed me that Tunnel 228 was an experimental theatre / art project, produced jointly by the Old Vic (Kevin Spacey being the man at the creative helm) and one of the UK's most innovative performance companies, Punchdrunk, along with the input of loads of urban artists.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the urban art Cans Festival last year, which took place just round the corner (in the tunnels beneath Waterloo station), Tunnel 228 looked just up my street, so I booked a couple of tickets on the spot. Lucky I did, because once word spread about the project - which was only going to be open to the public for 15 days - the (free) tickets were all gone by the end of that day.

My slot to step through the door into the maze of underground tunnels was yesterday afternoon, and I wasn't disappointed. The space was vast, the atmosphere spooky and surreal, and there was so much to take in. After wandering around for a few minutes, I began to notice that there was some kind of almost ritualistic performance taking place, with the Punchdrunk performers working meticulously on various mechanisms and machines to ensure the safe voyage of a silver ball around the tunnels.

The show is loosely based on Fritz Lang's classic film Metropolis, but having never seen the film I chose to draw my own conclusions about what it all meant. So my interpretation was that the ball represented money, and the performers repeating the same monotonous tasks over and over reflected the thankless routines of the working classes. This was reinforced by the fact that we were all 'ordered' to wear surgical face masks at all times (removing our sense of individuality) and we were only allowed to speak in whispers. In fact, at one point one of the performers reprimanded me for speaking too loudly, and although I wasn't intimidated by the in-my-face 'sssshhhh' that I received, it really added to the idea that we had entered a dark and oppressive underground world, despite the fact that the sun was shining brightly just a few feet away outside. I was also a bit miffed as I was told to shut up just as I was making an amusing joke about having to always queue for the ladies loos as we waited in line to peak through the door to witness one of the other mini-performances.

One of my favourite moments was when I spotted a piece by the artist Slinkachu, who has gained notoriety for placing amusing miniature scenes around the streets of London. I was chuffed to bits to spot four of his tiny installations in Tunnel 228, but I'm intrigued to know whether I missed any.

By the time I'd taken everything in I was rather surprised to discover that I'd been wandering around the performance space for well over an hour. If you're lucky enough to have tickets for this then you're in for a treat, but if not, there are rumours that the show could re-surface later this year, so keep your ear to the ground. And you get a free surgical mask to boot (no swine flu for me!).

Monday, 11 May 2009

My quest to discover the fate of Sniper the dog

About ten years ago I was watching BBC Points West, the local BBC news programme for Bristol and the surrounding areas. One of the top stories was a frantic hunt for a dog called Sniper, who had gone missing in a forest whilst out on a walk. His distraught owners believed that their beloved Sniper - always the adventurer - had unwittingly wandered in to one of the hundreds of badger sets in the forest, and had gotten lost in the labyrinth of underground tunnels.

There was a live link at the search scene, where it appeared there were dozens of policemen, RSPCA people and members of the public trying to locate the canine explorer, with an emotional plea from the reporter for people in the local area to keep their eyes peeled for a dog matching Sniper's description. The story had me gripped, and at the end of the show they re-visited the scene to inform us that Sniper still hadn't been found, but that the search was still in full swing.

Now, these were the days before online news hit the big-time, and the thought of instant access to information was a distant dream. So the next day I dutifully tuned in to the news programme for a Sniper update. Nothing. After a few days, I was so disturbed by the lack of closure on the story that I even sent them an e-mail, requesting information about the outcome of the Sniper-search. Nothing.

A decade later, I have decided to make it my mission to find out once and for all - WHAT HAPPENED TO SNIPER THE DOG?

Granted, the details I have are rather thin on the ground; my estimation of when this story hit the headlines could be wrong, and it may not have even been a story on the BBC local news programme after all, but instead on its ITV equivalent. But I'm hoping that I will finally be able to discover the fate of dear old Sniper through the wonder of social media and modern-day technology.

Please help and spread the word!

Saturday, 2 May 2009


Much has already been said about the media coverage of swine flu, panic mongering and the notion of 'the boy who cried wolf', so I'm sure there's nothing I can really add to the debate. However, what I have contributed is the marvellous pun above, relating to ham and the end of the world. Bad Science legend Ben Goldacre is certainly a fan, so I must thank him for circulating my pun-ditry to a wider audience.

In truth, I am a tad worried about a potential pandemic, but at the end of the day there's not really much I can do about it except wait and see how it plays out.

It's been a busy old week. The 'battle of the media' pub quiz at the Groucho Club (in aid of International Alert) was good fun on Monday. Other than getting confused between Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendleton, I think I justified my place on the Guardian team...although mainly as a result of my extensive knowledge of Take That.

Tuesday I went along to the April edition of the London Bloggers Meetup. It was a good'un, sponsored by Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, who told us all about their latest interactive campaign and treated us to canapes, a couple of free drinks and a pretty target pin badge which is now adorning my (ridiculously massive) handbag. Loads of new people were there too, and I had the pleasure of meeting Laura from BitchBuzz, Meaghan from Spoonfed, Steve from LearnAsOne (very interesting social media / charity expedition project), Rachel Clarke, Tom from Tired of London, Tired of Life and Alex Lefley, as well as the usual suspects.

Just noticed that I've got a sore throat. Hmmmmm....