Monday, 28 July 2008

An Open Letter to the DGA

It worries me that in my experience, both in the USA and UK, whenever there is filming in a public place, the film technicians may be required by the producers to harass any photographers that turn up uninvited.

I am a photojournalist who has often been assigned by legitimate news organizations to cover motion picture filming. Sometimes I was not invited and sometimes, judging from people’s actions, my presence was unwanted and I was actively harassed and even assaulted.

Putting up screens and holding umbrellas to shield the stars from photographers is not harassment but shining xenon flashlights or laser pointers into photographer's eyes, especially when they are looking down a lens, is assault.

Why should a film crew have to do this? Some crews I have encountered even enjoyed it and saw it as a sport. It concerns me that just because someone has got a permit to film in the street, that doesn't mean they have the right to prevent people from going about their lawful business or that the motion picture and television industry is exempt from scrutiny.

I have asked many times but I never got an answer from the DGA or FilmLondon on what rights - if any - a film permit gives a production. All I can find out tells me it doesn't give them any rights except that it complies with the bye-laws that you can't film on public property without one.

I certainly support crews filming in the street and will happily wait a few minutes when I encounter them if they're holding traffic for a shot as many of my friends and family work in the film industry (as I did for 25 years) and they have got to eat too.

But sometimes there is a mistaken belief that this enables the production to legally block the sidewalks, shut down noises and tell people what they can and cannot do. There's a industry joke about this that goes; "don't worry, we have cinematic immunity".

I have written letters to production managers and the DGA many times suggesting a code of conduct for film crews regarding the photography of their activity in public places. None have ever been answered. Even though I haven't covered a film set for about five years, it still concerns me that someday somebody is going to be hurt.

As a responsible journalist I understand that a production has to proceed without hindrance and, with 25 years experience within the film industry, I believe I know how to behave on a set. Whenever I have been at a set I have always made my presence known and given my name when asked (although there is no compelling reason to do so) and I have tried to come to an arrangement on to where it is safe to observe the production. This arrangement is usually then reneged on by the production deliberately placing lights, gryflons, vehicles or people for no purpose but to block the view. That comes with the territory.

With increasing frequency though people have also deliberately shone xenon flashlights into my camera whenever it was put up to my eye. Doing this can cause permanent damage to the retina and have done the same with laser pointers which is assault.

I don't need to wonder how the police and security would react if this was done by me to the cinematographer. I hate to think of where these sort of actions towards the media could escalate to.

Understandably the 'paparazzi' are generally unwelcome but it could lead to a tragedy if the attitude within the film industry prevails that they are fair game for assault.

I can appreciate a crew’s concern for public safety and the privacy of the cast and by always making my presence known and working openly I cannot pose a security or privacy threat and, as when filming is in a public place, I cannot accept that any form of direct hindrance is justified. Such actions only create incentives for the media to stay undercover and infiltrate film sets instead, if only for personal safety.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for the film and television industry to remind cast and crews that there are responsible journalists covering film sets and even if uninvited, they do not need permission to work if filming occurs in a public place. We live in a free society and the entertainment industry should be given the same scrutiny by the media as any other economic activity. If only there had been a couple of paps hiding in the bushes on the Twiglight Zone set, then the truth would have been told and the guilty punished.

Over the years I have heard an amazing array of ill-informed reasons presented by assistant directors, location PA’s, security guards and peace officers as to why I cannot photograph a film set, mostly based on erroneous interpretations of copyright and privacy laws. It would be useful to all concerned if industry bodies made greater efforts to clarify the situation but, in the meantime, they must ask their personnel to desist from direct interference.

I asked blogger Michael Taylor, a Hollywood 'Juicer' (what we call in the UK a 'Sparks') for his thought about this (I've redacted details of a particular incident we discussed). He said:

As you know, a film crew can develop a protective feeling about its stars -- I've seen this happen, and felt it myself more than once. While the film is in production, an "us and them" mindset develops, where the crew and actors are "us", and the outside world is "them." As the physical side of the group, the grips (in particular), and juicers can feel an obligation to confront any perceived threats or intrusions. Usually the cops take care of all that, but sometimes a "bogey" manages to get inside the comfort zone, and that's when a crew can get hostile. That someone would pull such a potentially dangerous stunt on you comes as no real surprise.

I can understand why the crew might be rude to any outsider who comes on set with a camera. The assumption would be that your real purpose was to get photos or some insider dirt to sell to a tabloid -- and to the base reptilian brain, that means "threat." You can bet there was no general announcement of your presence and purpose -- maybe a note on the call sheet, at most -- which means most of the crew had no idea who you were or why you were there. In the absence of such information to the contrary, they probably assumed you were just another guy with a camera, looking for something to sell.

Dangerous/lethal events happen on big budget films but in my experience, it's usually the low budget films trying to make miracles happen with pennies that push the envelope into the danger zone. While the remake of "Village of the Damned" (John Carpenter) was being filmed in my now-home town, the local newspaper editor (a weekly) went to the set to take some pictures and ended up in a tussle with a cop that landed him in jail. Supposedly he had permission to visit the set, but a misunderstanding arose, and things went all wrong.

The thing is, a film crew already has to put up with all kinds of publicity shoots from small crews who visit the set demanding power, time, and sometimes equipment -- all of which simply adds to the burden involved with making the film itself. I did a post about this resentment ("Promo Land", or something like that) -- and having seen it from both sides, understand it to be a natural, if unproductive, reaction within the group dynamic. I'm sure you weren't demanding anything of this crew, but your presence alone -- and outsider coming on set -- might have been enough to piss people off. Add in their natural distaste for the paparazzi, and I guess what happens is what happened.
That doesn't make it right, but such are the realities of the biz. Still, I've never heard of the crew "being employed" to harass a legitimate visitor to the set. Usually we just ignore them. It sounds to me like you have reason to complain.

Return to Sender

I wrote this in June 2006. Since then with the Royal Mail switching to charging by size where A4 costs more than DL or you pay more for things thicker than 5mm, the problem has only got worse.

Return to Sender

By Nat Bocking

Last Christmas, along with the cards and catalogues falling on the doormat, millions of people in Britain got notices that letters and cards for them were being held by the Royal Mail because the sender did not affix sufficient postage or forgot the stamp entirely. Those lucky people had to curtail Christmas shopping to queue at the sorting office, pay an £1 surcharge, plus the missing postage, just to collect their mail. Either that, or take a gamble that the letter wasn't the only notification of great expectations and put it out of their mind.

According to spokesman James Eadie, of the 500 million pieces of mail a week the Royal Mail handles, nearly 350,000 items have insufficient postage. This isn't totally preventable but the effect that it has can be changed.

For bulk mailers who have contracts with the Royal Mail, any item with insufficient postage is returned straight back to them preventing one stupid mistake clogging the postal system. But the ordinary person who forgets a stamp will usually unknowingly inconvenience the recipient.

The cost to society of unstamped mail is writer's cramp for postal workers trying to reclaim 13.4 million pounds of postage owed to the Royal Mail as well as immeasurable amounts of people's time and the transport miles wasted collecting or redelivering the letters. It seems like another of life's petty nuisances we can do without. Surely there is a way can prevent it?

The system as it stands is as follows; The Royal Mail holds the letter with postage due until they have collected the money. A demand for £1 plus postage is sent to the addressee. If they refuse, the letter goes back to the sender (if known) where the Royal Mail tries to ransom it again. By the time this has happened, it's possible the sender has realised that the letter went astray and has contacted the recipient already. It's not surprising then that 50% of insufficient postage letters are abandoned to the Royal Mail and have to be disposed of like litter. This adds up to nearly 7 million pounds in lost revenue for the Royal Mail that has, of course, to be borne by the other customers. Recognising the inconvenience of the present system, the Royal Mail had trialled in Hull, Liverpool and Colchester amongst other places, an honesty scheme where the letter is delivered with a card to which you affix stamps for the postage and surcharge due. Slightly more humane perhaps, but not essentially that different from present practice.

Why doesn't the Royal Mail just send the letter back first?

There are several reasons why the burden of insufficient postage first falls on the recipient and not the sender. James Eadie says the Royal Mail tries to strike a balance between customer service, practicality and protecting their revenue. Their primary mission is to "unite the recipient with their mail." The mail system is designed to move letters forward and it takes a lot of extra handling to send something back. Also, "people count on their mail getting there" he adds. Letters without stamps are delivered to the recipient first usually because the return address isn't known, so it simply can't be returned without opening it for clues.

It takes a remarkable organisation to handle the 82 million pieces of mail we send each day, 6 days a week. The machine that sorts your letters handles 30,000 letters an hour but it still relies on the power of 'wetware' (what programmers call the human brain) to read your handwriting. However 11.5 million pieces of mail a day are sent without valid postcodes. Operators pull out the mail, look up the address and add or correct the postcode with infra-red ink. Letters without any valid address or sender go to the National Return Letter Centre in Belfast. Its head, Ray Kennedy, is St. Peter to the 72 million letters a year which his workforce of 300 open for clues to their destiny. From here opened letters are either sent on to the recipient, returned to the sender or held for three months in case of a claimant and then destroyed. The NLRC has returned many thousands of treasured items lost in the post to their owners and it returns £175 million in undeliverable cheques back to banks every year but it costs the Royal Mail and so ultimately us, 10 million pounds a year. On a cost return basis, charging the recipient is the most successful option.

Why do we have this problem anyway?

With Christmas cards, the culprits are many. Once a year we all become bulk mailers and try to cope with a mountain of cards, envelopes and address data (sometimes incomplete) to send out our cards. There is time pressure, we always leave it too late. Some, desperate to avoid doing all this by hand, think computers can help but any time saved is quickly used up in screaming at the computer, printer and stationer’s sales assistants, as anyone who's tried to print out a database onto labels will testify. If the glue is not faulty and stamps aren't dropping off in transit, we are probably all guilty of once or twice in our lives omitting postage, either totally or, even more likely, partially if we haven't weighed the letter properly or understood the postage chart.

What can we do about it?

Thanks to Postman Pat, the fact that letters need stamps is common knowledge to every three year old. Any more public education about stamps and postcodes would surely be a waste of money. In schools children are encouraged to send letters to stimulate writing and socialising and the Royal Mail even supplies materials for role play. Consistently forgetting stamps is probably a warning that you have a clinical condition but how would you ever know unless you kept getting letters back? Between friends and family, good manners ensure that the recipient of an unstamped letter who is out of pocket probably does not mention it during the season of goodwill.

The more you think about it, the less sense this blame-the-victim system makes. Surely the Royal Mail should ask the sender for the full postage amount before delivering the package or letter. Why does this not happen?

Ask Elvis. The reason he got his letter back the very next day was because including your own address in the top left hand corner is so widespread in the USA that all American office software has a return address field when printing envelopes. The same habit is uncommon in Britain. The Royal Mail encourages us to do it in all its literature but has never promoted doing so with anything like the same insistence as the postcode. Statistics are hard to come by but, out of the 300,000 items containing cheques returned by the Royal Mail, more than two out of three [250,000] have no return address on the envelope.

The Royal Mail has researched other countries' postal regulations and found that nowhere in the EU is the return address compulsory. Only in Australia is it compulsory, and for bulk mailing only. According to Ray Kennedy, "we do not have a culture of putting our return address on the outside of our mail." This "culture" might stem from a belief in the infallibility of a postage stamp, a British invention, [1837 Rowland Hill] that can deliver a letter over a 100 years later. In February 2001 a postcard was delivered to Aberdeen after being posted from Queensland, Australia, in 1889!

Is postal "culture" inviolate? Surely, if we really want to change, we can. Until the 1840's, the receiver paid for letters. A return address, directing mail back to the sender, would save us all the headache of collecting unstamped mail from the sorting office. It would also save the millions of pounds lost in the present system. Even if the Royal Mail didn't want to adopt the "Return to Sender" habit, the return address would enable those being surcharged for insufficient postage to determine who the letter is from before paying for it and it gives them the real option of refusal. The orphan mail going to the National Return Letter Service would fall dramatically. If this practice had the same 80% compliance as the postcode does, the Royal Mail might reconsider their charging of recipients and automatically return to sender.

Another benefit of return addresses exists while we live under the threat of terrorism. The Royal Mail already has the means of checking the recipient's postal address and, if the situation warranted it, they could also check the sender's address to verify its validity. Perhaps we'd all feel a little bit more comfortable if we knew our post was coming from a valid address. It would be unwise to rely on the Royal Mail to guarantee our security but the requirement for a return address would be another defence and ensure that the recipient handled unfamiliar mail carefully. Postscript: you now can't send any item to Canada from the UK without a return address on the envelope.

As each unique postcode is relevant to about 12 homes or one city office building, it doesn't mean Big Brother can snoop in our mail (they can do that already if they have to) however it would also assist the Royal Mail in tracking usage patterns and so better match services to requirements. Marketers and service providers could find out to street level accuracy what locations communicate with each other the most, revealing trends about their competitors goods and services as much as their own and they would pay handsomely for such data.

Changing a nation's habits like smoking or drink-driving is a mammoth undertaking and such a minor issue is unlikely to attract Government intervention but any effort might be good value for money. Last July the fee for what the Royal Mail calls 'Revenue Protection' was increased from 50 to 80 pence. A response from the Royal Mail's customer service centre agreed there is a need for public education. It said that "return addressing was taught in schools for many years, but in recent times, it does not seem to happen. We cannot force people to put a return address on mail but agree it would assist us as much as our customers."

Changing our posting habits might spread ripples of goodwill throughout society in unexpected ways. Many people have relatives, friends, colleagues, ex-partners or even children they only contact at Christmas and through a lack of contact, misunderstandings get magnified and feelings can get hurt in the emotional minefield of the holidays. By giving a return address, the sender might find out that the intended recipient had moved or altered circumstances, rather than thinking that they were being ignored. Just after Christmas is a peak time for the emotional support charity Samaritans and the relationship counsellors Relate. Gillian Munro, a spokesperson for Relate says "our counsellors know that keeping lines of communication open, especially at stressful times like Christmas, is a key way for couples and families to look after their relationships." But on a less emotional level, getting a letter returned to you is, as marketing people say, a great way to clean up your data.

Many stationery shops sell personalised self-stick address labels on sheets or rolls. Buying them could save you the £5 annual registration fee to Friends Reunited later. The staff of Mini-Label, such a printing firm, have a vested interest in promoting the habit but speaking collectively they said "we are also fellow sufferers of the charging policy and would support any publicity that makes forgetting a stamp punishable by a thousand paper cuts. The return address label should be obligatory." Before anyone grumbles about having to buy personalised labels, in the USA they are popular as a free gift in charity mailshots, and clutter up your desk drawers unless you use them. It makes perfect sense as the charity has bought your name and address data anyway. If this was adopted by UK charities, ensuring a regular supply might discourage people opting out of junk mail using the Mailing Preference Service.

The only way we'll really know such a system will work is to try it. The US Post Office protects their revenue by sending unstamped mail straight back to the sender. They do, however, charge for this. Until they started doing so, it was open to fraud. Many years ago a trick of struggling Hollywood screenwriters was to reverse the sender and recipient on their envelopes to submit weighty manuscripts for free. The present Royal Mail system prevents such enterprise but it doesn't deter abusers like Dr James Forster, the Manfield poison pen author or prevent vulnerable people from harassment by repeated mailings of bogus unstamped letters.

So, by next holiday season, get into the habit of including your own address on the envelope. Soon you can take a gamble on your next piece of unstamped mail and invest in something with a better "return".


© Nat Bocking

Balloon remorse

revised May 6th 2012

In 2004 for my daughter's birthday party we released twelve balloons with postage tags from our back garden.

Amazingly, a few days later a tag was returned to us from Billy Sur Oisy, a small mountainous village in the middle of France, 544 km away. To foster international relations, we sent the finder ten euros reward and a copy of our village newsletter.

I contacted the Met Office to ask if that was in any way unusual and was told that the air currents that weekend had kept the balloon's altitude low and allowed it to travel so far. Under ideal conditions, a 12 inch latex balloon will rise to about 5 km altitude and burst, usually within an hour of release.

Now I have come to the realisation we shouldn't have done this. At first I thought only mylar balloons were hazardous. They can bring down power lines and they don't degrade but I have since learned that latex balloons are hazardous to wildlife as well, because sea birds, basking sharks and turtles swallow them thinking they are food.

Now I am appalled when I see a massed balloon release, such as at sporting events and the recent opening of the Olympic Stadium in London. I hate to be a spoilsport but I also won’t buy helium balloons for my children any more. Helium is a finite resource that is extracted from the ground. We can't make it synthetically and once it's released into the atmosphere; it's gone; leaking eventually into outer space. It has taken the earth 4.7 billion years to create all our helium but we could use it all in a 100 years.

Very often balloon releases accompany fundraising for good causes or are launched in memory of someone who has died. The most heartbreaking are the children who are victims of cancer and other diseases. We commemorated my late sister after she died in a accident this way, so I fully understand the feelings of those that do this. I am reluctant to contact organisers of memorial releases to advise them their actions are are compounding the tragedy but each memorial release only gives further credibility to the misguided but widely held belief that balloon releases are harmless.

A good deal of PR goes into claims that a latex balloon will burst into small pieces and then degrade in the environment "as fast as an oak leaf" though this research was originally published by the Latex Rubber Institute of Malaysia and that headline rate actually takes years in the cold salt water off Britain, enough time for a seabird or turtle to swallow a balloon. Not all released balloons burst nor break into small fragments. My local paper delights in reporting that balloons launched from East Anglia turn up deflated but intact in Scandinavian forests. The strings tied to them are a separate and even more lethal hazard. Fundraising balloons have also killed cattle and resulted in hefty compensation claims from those responsible. 
Artist Fran Crowe picked up all this balloon litter on a Suffolk beach.

The National Farmers Union have previously campaigned against balloon releases, stating: "When the balloons land in grass fields they might be eaten by grazing livestock or contaminate hay, again with the risk of being swallowed by livestock when they eat the hay. Balloons are just another form of litter, making the countryside look untidy."

The amount of balloon litter found on beaches has been increasing. The Policy Paper on Balloon Litter by Keep Wales Tidy is perhaps the most detailed analysis of the subject and it refutes the arguments of the balloon industry.

Many fast food restaurant chains and supermarkets claim their packaging and bags are biodegradable but none would posit it is acceptable to scatter them at random in the environment, so the balloon industry's position is quite absurd.

Several states in the USA and in Australia have banned the release of any kind of helium balloons. One commentator says "balloon releases are littering. Organised balloon releases are organised littering."

The UK Marine Conservation Agency has called for a ban. Its website has a leaflet to inform event organisers and a link for you to report announced releases.

Keep Scotland Tidy reckon balloon and flying lantern releases, with their potential for creating litter, could actually be interpreted as an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to drop "or otherwise deposit" litter in a public place. With this in mind, it is asking Scotland’s local councils to ban balloon and flying lantern releases from premises within their control, including all school buildings, and consider entering a new condition on entertainment licenses to prevent balloon and flying lantern releases.

Some progress is being made. The RSPCA have stepped in to advise event organisers about the dangers when they've had enough time. But in the same week, 22 nursery schools - which should be mindful of the impression this makes on young people - released balloons for wounded soldiers.

So far the response by various authorities to my complaints about balloon releases has been ostrich-like. After I complained about this release to the police in North Yorkshire, on the basis that it was indistinguishable from littering, I was referred to Scarborough Borough Council as the "enforcing authority" for littering. Subsequently Harry Briggs, Recycling And Waste Enforcement Manager for Scarborough Borough Council, suggested I write to the newspapers to complain. Perhaps they fear the public's false belief that balloon releases are harmless. A former member of a county council recounted to me their experience of a campaign started by the local press piling scorn on them for being a "spoilsport" when they proposed to legislate a ban on balloon releases.

With millions of balloons sold every year, education and codes of practice alone won't prevent the needless deaths and the continued pollution of both our environment AND our attitudes to conservation.

I think that until a judge can give a ruling that a balloon release is not littering or in any way harmful, and therefore legal, the reporting of deliberate releases as an act of littering or fly-tipping is the only way to ensure the authorities will focus on this problem. Therefore I have reported Lord Coe to the Metropolitan Police for his wilful act of littering on May 5th 2012 which was witnessed by 40,000 spectators in the vicinity of E20 2ST at around 9 pm. The Metropolitan Police's confirmation number is MPS CR03-00049452.

If you witnessed this crime, perhaps on television, or see another celebrity or other people committing the same acts of wilful littering, then I suggest you report it too.

Postscript: The Metropolitan Police have responded to my online notification:

"This should be directed to the Mayor of London, or the event organisers.  No offences to report."

The Met's email also says:

Total Policing is the Met's commitment to be on the streets and in your communities to catch offenders, prevent crime and support victims. We are here for London, working with you to make our capital safer.

Consider our environment - please do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

The LOCOG website has a FAQ of over 140 pages to trawl through without any obvious pointers to their contact details and it has not responded to several twitter requests via the official @london2012 to discuss this. 

I tried and failed at using Newham council's website to report fly tipping and littering as their website doesn't recognise my home address in their database. Presumeably because I am resident outside the borough.

You can search for the hashtag #balloonrelease to get the story and updates on twitter.

Thinking of organising a balloon release? Please read this.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Crate Stacking

Originally uploaded by

When was this game invented? I'd like to make the claim that unless anyone has evidence otherwise, Tanya Bocking invented it at Broadstone Warren, the UK Scout Association campsite in Sussex in July 1977.

I was working as a leader at a camp run by a
play scheme for children living in Latimer Road and Trellick Tower during the summer holiday. The camp leader was a Canadian named Chris (a beefy former bouncer at the El Mocambo club in Toronto, including for the Rolling Stones' gigs) and his sidekick was his friend Andre. I forget their last names but they had been travelling in Europe and found this easy gig taking inner-city kids, some troubled, some wonderful, out into the wilds of Sussex for a week under canvas. They then recruited a bunch of 16-20 year olds, including me, a couple of hippies, an AWOL soldier and a Hell's Angel (whose dad was a bishop!) as camp counsellors. Of course we bonded and we formed a gang modeled on the Merry Pranksters we called the The Praisers and got up to all sorts of hi-jinks. Oh yes, we were on the bus. One night we snuck into the grounds of Saint Hill Manor nearby just to see what all that weirdness was all about but that's another story.

Towards the end of the camp we had got loads of milk crates piled around the site. We'd buy a crate of milk in cartons everyday but nobody could be arsed to take the crates back. We had made tables and chairs and swings out of them but hadn't thought of a stacking game. I didn't see any scouts there playing this game then. Then Tanya came to visit the camp and one evening she challenged all the kids to see how high they could climb on a SINGLE stack of milk crates. A video of what can happen is here.

The kids from the other groups camping near us watched in awe and soon joined in and then we had regular competitions. The record by the end of the camp was 22 single crates. Those scouts watching us and joining in could have spread this idea around pretty quickly.

Now outdoor centres everywhere play this game. Some make wussy towers three across and use safety ropes. When our towers toppled, you fell into mud and risked spraining an ankle landing on a crate. If you'd like to play an online variation of this game,
try it here.

I know a video crew came to the c
amp with a bigwig from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to see what we did with their money. We showed them the crate game and a contraption I had built where a old hand cart we had 'borrowed' ran down a slope on wooden rails to be arrested by some innertube elastic, whereupon it catapulted the riders into a muddy bog.

It was our ultimate sanction. Anybody not pulling their weight or giving staff some lip was threatened with ride in the 'Iron Maiden'. For the sake of the video, a couple of kids were 'encouraged' to ride it and when they landed quite spectacularly; they picked up handfuls of mud and threw them at their laughing cohorts. A mud-fight between the leaders and campers ensued.

We didn't half cop it the following week when the video was shown to the council in their chamber. If this video hasn't been buried since because of the embarrassment to our funders, then it would be evidence.

UK milk crates are a bit easier to stack as they have bigger teeth that latch together. US milk crates are much lighter and will tip easily.

Chris, Andre, Smokey The Preacher, Squaddie, Mandy, Debs, Stretch, Akapod, 'Travolta' John, where are they now?

Postscript 20/8/09

I gave an interview to Adam Molner who has written a story on crate stacking for Climbing magazine in the USA. Well, that shows somebody's reading this blog. His article is now in the September 2009 issue.

My thesis is I don't claim Tanya Bocking was the first person to play the game but we have no evidence yet she wasn't. Also, as it happened at a Scout camp, it could explain its rapid propagation. I don't know how it got to the USA but it's probably case of parallel invention. If you have any evidence of the crate stacking game being played before 1977, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Originally uploaded by pixlink
With all the hoopla about Gordon Brown staying in Southwold this summer (aka Hampstead on Sea) it should be said that his holiday home sits amidst some of the most deprived areas in Britain.

It has been reported he will be staying at Shadingfield Hall which will set him back £4500 per week according to its website. The papers are full of hastily written features about this pile near Wangford.

What is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper irony is that this house is owned by the 'celebrity photographer' Dave Hogan. I can presume there will be no paparazzi lurking in the grounds or mysterious tip-offs to any one of the throngs of photographers sleeping in their cars down the road. No, not at all, as politicians aren't sexy.

Obviously Dave Hogan (who seems a thoroughly decent fellow from the times I have stood alongside him) has done very well out of papping Madonna and Kylie and co. Although what the public perceive as a 'paparazzi' is just a press photographer doing his job and one fortunate enough to be able to retain some of his image rights from his publishers or his employers.

Not many can. There's a rather nasty contract being offered to freelance writers and photographers by a major magazine publisher at the moment which is using language rather similar to this

Writer George Orwell's former home in Southwold.

Rural poverty fears as
numbers revealed
22 April 2008 | 06:45
A NEW report has revealed a much
higher proportion of deprived people
living in rural Suffolk than previously
thought, a charity has said.
Suffolk ACRE said the report, which
was carried out by the Oxford
Consultants for Social Inclusion
(OCSI), gives “conclusive proof” that
Suffolk people are living in deprivation
“cheek by jowl” with more affluent
The report, which has revealed the
'hidden pockets of deprivation', comes
at the same time as a
Government-appointed inspector has
warned that people in rural Suffolk are
“struggling to get by”.
Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk
ACRE, which commissioned the report
working in partnership with Suffolk
County Council, said he was pleased
with the findings which would help the
group in its attempts to tackle the
issues around rural deprivation in the
“We are very surprised by the level of
some of the numbers there but to
some extent it confirms what we have
known for some time - that there are
major issues in rural areas and large
numbers of people affected and
sometimes this does not get the profile
that it needs.
“We noticed from the report that 39
per cent of adults with no
qualifications in Suffolk live in rural
areas and if they have no
qualifications it means that there
ability to improve there life through
work and new skills is hampered.
“We need to look at the numbers and
see how they are spread across the
county and begin to look at how we
address them and see what we are
currently doing and if that is the most
effective way in helping them.”
The report found that 42% of the total
Suffolk population live in rural areas
with 40% of all people with limiting
long-term illness in Suffolk living in
rural areas.
In a separate report based on visits to
Suffolk and Essex,
Government-appointed inspector Dr
Stuart Burgess found that rural
deprivation is hidden in the
countryside and there is a
misconception that life in rural areas is
“affluent and idyllic”.
Dr Burgess warned that there is not
enough affordable homes being built in
rural areas and there is a need to
protect rural services. He is now
asking the Government to set up a
special recovery fund for communities
coping with the impact of bluetongue,
foot-and-mouth and bird flu

The hidden pockets of deprivation
revealed in the OCSI report are the
following areas - to the east of
Barningham, near Stanton; in the
estate around Seaward Avenue in
Leiston; Peasenhall; three areas in
Saxmundham are highly deprived; the
area north of Upthorpe; Willingham;
Ampton and Timworth, near Bury St
Edmunds; Whitehouse in Ipswich
covering the mobile homes to the west
of the A14 and Kessingland.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The mysterious water tower

I wrote this in 2003 and it became a sort of manifesto for a cause that was eventually realised as this

The mysterious water tower

by Nat Bocking

Most people today don't give water towers a moment's thought. At a glance, a water tower is a bland lump of concrete or metal. An anonymous, ubiquitous and uninteresting container, hardly a pinnacle of aesthetic or engineering achievement.

I have long held that the water towers surrounding my home in Suffolk are objects of beauty as well as vital utility. Because of its topography, (or lack of it) East Anglia has a great number of water towers of many kinds. Built between the 1850's and 1970's in a range of styles from gothic to brutalist, they are abundant in a landscape that emphasizes their form. For me they are as much icons of East Anglia as its windmills, wherries and steeples. Probably the best known and most remarkable water tower in Suffolk is the ‘House in the Clouds’ at Thorpeness, a five-storey house disguising a 30,000-gallon water tank on top of a 60 foot tower.

Though we take it for granted today, water is the very basis of civilization and was one of the first of nature's gifts to be harnessed. The invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era required an understanding of water management, distribution and storage. Waterworks are some of the oldest structures on Earth. The mysterious lines in the Nacsa desert of Peru are now thought related to water sources and the cisterns and canals are all that remains of a once great civilization there. Along with many aqueducts, the Romans built water towers in Britain. Britain's oldest surviving water tower has been dated 1160.

From an aesthetic standpoint, most water towers in Britain are thought unremarkable but there were many inspired and grandiose examples built in Victorian times. I. K. Brunel's two pre-fabricated 85m towers for the Crystal Palace in 1854 were demolished 1939 and 1940 but were an arresting feature of Paxton's marvellous pavilion. Maxwell Ayrton's 'helter-skelter' towers of the 1920's were bold experiments in concrete by the architect of Wembley stadium. In Suffolk, like most rural areas, the relative poverty and low density of the population made the development of water infrastructure too expensive for many district councils. In 1910, 64% of the rural parishes in England were without a piped supply. While large infrastructure schemes were underway in the Midlands and other industrial regions, Suffolk lagged behind. Bury St. Edmunds didn't get a mains supply until 1939. One impetus for water tower building in East Anglia came from defence with many metal towers erected for barracks and airfields during 1939-45. Legislation in 1944 provided finance to expand supply into rural areas and most water towers constructed afterwards are variations of off-the-shelf designs produced by the large civil engineering firms. The company L G Mouchel had a pattern book of some 99 designs for water towers. Spotting the siblings or variations of each design in an area can be a game.

After WW2, the constraints of costs and materials were far too great to emulate the Victorian engineers or adopt the spirit of the Festival of Britain. Water towers weren't intended to capture the public's attention and, for the sake of security of the potable water supply, very little information on their design and manufacture was given to the public. Over time, and especially after several reorganizations and the 1989 privatisation of the water companies, most of the records of who built our water towers have been lost although some county councils such as Essex have commissioned histories of their water boards.

Much of the information on our water history still remains only available to the professional engineer or persistent amateur. English Heritage has produced several internal reports on water infrastructure.

Postcript: in 2003 a book 'The Water Towers of Britain' by Barry Barton was published. This culminated seven years research by the water tower sub-panel of the Panel for Historical Engineering Works at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Today, with rising costs of construction and maintenance and a cheaper option of constant-pressure pumping, water towers in Britain are gradually becoming redundant but instead of being demolished they are being maintained for other purposes such as bases for mobile phone masts. Given that many water towers are within residential areas, this is sometimes not without controversy (such as in Haverhill in Suffolk) and more information on a water tower's history and aesthetics might be desirable in any planning enquiry. By their own admission, English Heritage's reports "give an insufficient set of criteria for judging the relative importance of different water towers."

Once understood, water towers rarely remain uninteresting and become difficult to ignore. In rural East Anglia, water towers compete for visual attention with prominent churches and usually, being lighter in colour, they contrast vividly with their companion's ancient brick and flint. As a photographer I find the water towers in East Anglia fascinating subjects for my lens and I expect many painters and photographers have subjected them to study. They never look the same twice because their isolation in the landscape enhances the effect of reflected sunlight, turning them orange and red at dawn and dusk. A tower's visibility in the distance is markedly affected by weather and indicates levels of pollution or humidity. They are steely-grey when rain is imminent or brown when smoke or dust fills the air.

In America water towers enjoy a great degree of public appreciation. In rural areas water towers are usually most obvious manifestation of a communities' existence and often record a town's name to identify it from far away. Sometimes they are themed as symbols of the local industry such as a tin of sweetcorn, a coffee pot or a peach, declaring that this place is more than just a dot on a map but special for something. Artists have long recognised the water tower as an American icon. An early modernist, Charles DeMuth painted many water towers and grain silos, his 1930 'Water Tower' was a favourite of his friend Georgia O'Keffe. Artists continue to be inspired by water infrastructure. British sculptor Rachel Whiteread constructed an 'invisible' water tower atop a New York art museum for her first American public commission.

Many of Britain's water towers have a place in engineering history. According to an internal English Heritage report; "the water industry in England was of the greatest international importance during the industrial revolution....many of the solutions adopted in Europe and America were first devised in English towns." One of Southwold's two towers is listed by English Heritage as a rare example of an early wind-pumped tower. Its larger companion a few feet away is a multi-legged tower of a more widespread design. A more modern tower at Horstead in Norfolk is a remarkably bold revision of the usual form and East Anglia has many towers it can claim as the tallest, biggest or oldest working.

Starting with the Roman remains of a tower unearthed at Pakenham, East Anglia's water towers have evolved from brick boxes to utilitarian circular tanks on legs to the slender, soaring 'wine glass' form of recent years. Each tower reveals influence of the aesthetics of their time with touches of modernism or Art Deco or more Victorian decorations. Much information can be divined from looking carefully at a tower; its features can be categorised to identify its probable age and siblings. Just a brief study of the towers around me in Suffolk reveals a timeline of technical innovations. Although many municipal towers in Suffolk were built to pattern designs, each as subtle variations in the details. A master's degree thesis presented in 2007 posited that the distinctive style seen in Suffolk was the work of one architect, as yet unidentified.

When I talk to people living near water towers, they reveal positive emotional attachments to 'their' water towers. Towers are cited as mental landmarks and often acquire affectionate local nicknames such as "The Chessman", "The Castle" or "The Flying Saucer." Poet Laureate Andrew Motion composed a poem about a water tower near his childhood home on the Essex/Suffolk border. He told the BBC "I drive past this tower now and remember making it the target for my walks as a teenager growing up. Whenever I see it, I have a sense that I am re-encountering my young self."

The reliability of gravity over pumps means that water towers will never be dispensed with entirely. Water tower research and development continues in places such as the Middle East where Kuwait's water towers are the very symbol of the developing country. Yet, despite the importance in our history and culture, my research into the towers in Suffolk leads me to the conclusion that detailed information on their history and use is practicably unobtainable.

Simple questions as to when a particular tower was built and by whom are not easily answered. I have asked the Essex & Suffolk and East Anglian water companies as well as the County Records Office for information about the towers around me in the Blyth Valley and all have replied that nothing is held in their files. With the help of the Institute of Civil Engineers and English Heritage, I was pointed to some reference sources and I have read some academic papers on water towers but what material is available is buried in distant archives. Despite the great number of iconic water towers in East Anglia, to my knowledge, little has been done in the past to exploit their historical, cultural or commercial value.

The time for Britain's water towers to be placed alongside our wealth of heritage sites has come. Public interest is growing in once anonymous civil engineering works. Restoration of Sir Joseph Bazalgette's Crossness Pumping Station in East London is underway, pumping stations at Kew Bridge and Cambridge have become heritage sites and proposals for a museum of sanitation are being considered. Water towers are the most conspicuous structures in our water supply and disposal network but our water infrastructure is largely undeveloped for its heritage value. East Anglia's redundant water towers have enormous potential for tourism, education and recreation purposes which could benefit the economy and add value to existing facilities.

The public's interest in other forms of water engineering indicates the need for a water tower guide book. This in itself demands the preservation of a rapidly dwindling stock of historical data on the water supply. People want to know more about water towers and regional tourism bodies and commercial publishers and media should seize the opportunity to fulfil the demand for knowledge.

To contemplate a water tower is to witness mankind's responsible harnessing of the gifts of nature. The United Nations General Assembly in resolution 55/196 proclaimed the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. The resolution encourages governments to increase awareness of the importance of sustainable freshwater use, management and protection. As water towers in themselves don't pollute or squander natural resources but enable the use of them wisely to sustain life, shouldn't they be venerated as monuments to mankind's earthly progress?

© Nat Bocking

The Celebrity Photography Awards


The Celebrity Photography Awards

Join us for the night when the world of celebrity photographers honour their own and the people and publications who keep them employed.

Due to the frequent invasion of privacy into celebrities’ private lives by the paparazzi, all photographers attending the event will be bound to a strict code of conduct. Named in honour of the first newspaper proprietor to pay a celebrity photographer a million pounds, the 'Desmond Principles' are:




The event will raise funds for Charity Causes, an international organisation working on Sloane Street to prevent the exploitation of desperate D-listers and the wastage of photographers time with pathetic celebrity endorsements.

The venue is a top London hotel. As usual, several locations will simultaneously be disseminated on the rumour mill but driving around until you see Richard Young's Porsche should show you the right place. Chefs from The Ivy and San Lorenzo have prepared the menu in gratitude for all the free publicity they have been given over the years.

Guests confirmed at this time include Prince William and Tom Cruise. At least, last time we checked, they didn't say there were not coming.

In recognition of the solidarity with celebrity photographers shown by the TV news media, a special area has been set up across the street for you to film arrivals. TV crews are reminded that space is limited and tripods will not be permitted and please be in position three hours before the event begins. We’re sorry about those dripping gutters, the bus exhaust and the crowd of gawpers in the way. Any usable images obtained will qualify for a prize next year.

Parking will be available on the kerb outside in sight of the doors. Please leave your keys with our doormen who have been provided by The Ivy. They will box in your car until Michael Winner leaves.

To add to the razzmatazz, autograph hunters and anyone with camera phone will form a pack to shout "overear" and "jusswunmore" so that TV can get B-roll of the real media at work.

Access to all prize winners and presenters for print journalists will be auctioned by Max Clifford before anyone is brought to the press room. Please do not ask questions until the last five seconds of the photo session.

The award categories are:

Best exit shot.

Best car snatch: limo or police van.

Best shopping shot: candid or posed (but pretending not to).

Best shot of self reverential irony like a celebrity in front of a wall of photographers.

Best pre-fame photo collected from a relative or former lover.

Best video grab from Big Brother TV series.

The year's best photo of a driver, bodyguard, makeup artist or nanny sold to the newspapers as the new partner of a celebrity.

The Robbie Williams Award: given to the celebrity who claims most often in one year the media is ruining their life.

The Here'sey Award: Given to the year's newest face who complains about the media within the shortest time.

The Jordan Award: given to a celebrity who has outlasted their 15 minutes the longest.

Daniella Westbrook Award for the year's most reused photograph.

The [sponsors' name] award for the [sponsors' name] year's most distracting [sponsors' name] logo on an [sponsors' name] awards platform.

The Frauds PR award for the year's most imaginative guest list.

Note to editors:

The award statuette 'Pappy' depicts a forlorn figure holding a camera behind velvet ropes. The evening's highest award, the 'Grand Pappy' stands smiling on a red carpet next to his Porsche. The flashbulb on Pappy's camera will fire when it detects another flash or the proximity of a person. It is programmed to turn off if it detects a body wearing black but if handled roughly or it senses a swiftly moving object, the flash will fire incessantly until the batteries are exhausted, which is sooner than the manufacturer promises.

For media accreditation, please fax back our 36 page form to our premium rate number. For last minute accreditation, write your name on a strip of duct tape and place it outside the Odeon Leicester Square.

For more information contact Luke Forrester at Dewey, Cheatham & Howe Public Relations.

(In case you were wondering, this IS a hoax but for how long?)

Copyright 2001 Nat Bocking

Other bloggers I like

A big welcome to the readers who have cruised by from Bob Shingleford's 'On an Overgrown Path' and Michael Taylor's 'Blood, Sweat and Tedium' blogs. I must be the nexus between classical music and film and television production.

If you want to see the film industry as I remember it, a career path with many dark places and much dirty work but the occasional moment of high-five satisfaction then MT is the man for the low down on Hollywood.

Bob or 'Pliable' to his readers has many strings to his bow as a blogger, podcaster and writer on classical and modern music and shares fascinating insights and the odd bit of juicy gossip from the orchestra pit. There's a place both these overlap but never meet and that is on celluloid and I'd be interested to read a film composer's blog to round out the set.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A cynics view of language in creativity

In my work (in all its varieties) there are a good number of euphemisms or euphemism by acronym for things we’d rather not say. Sometimes there are contortions of language to avoid any kind of judgement, such as the name for the population group NEETs where 'Chav' would be wholly unacceptable, even if used by the group themselves.

One place I see a lot of them are reviews of performances and creative work and, in my roles, the materials offered to the media for that purpose.

An area I find very interesting and I am looking into it further is the language used in the materials performers and artists provide when seeking public or private sponsorship for their work.

Someday I’d like to track a project, from say funding application to the media reviews, to show how describing a work before it exists and after it exists is manifested separately from the work itself. I suspect there's one or two PhDs already out there on this and I suspect that many phrases used in utter sincerity will appear on the list of euphemisms below. So if you're pitching for a gig of any kind, you should avoid using any of these words as your investor/sponsor/whatever may have another idea of their meanings.

This following list appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail titled A Cynic's View of the Movie Guide by-lined Doug Saunders in about 1995, at least that’s the year of the film festival programme I filed it with. A student film of mine was shown at the 1995 Montreal Film Festival and I must have seen this cutting running in the paper that year.

I thought it would be well-worn Internet meme by now but searching hasn’t brought it up. I do recall seeing something similar, I think by Matt Groening, in the LA Weekly once. If Doug Saunders is the original author, it deserves greater dissemination. I hope he won't mind if I share it here. (Postscript: it appears credited to Saunders in Roger Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary.)

Saunders was writing of the Toronto Film Festival’s 400+ page film guide and said that it it is “packed with clever allusion and coy euphemism. Veteran festival goers have learned to decode the guide’s peculiar language. Here are some words to look out for:”

Demanding: Unwatchable

Rigorous: Tedious

Playful: Stupid

Unabashed: Shamelessly stupid

Aspires, Aims: Fails

Subtle emotion: No acting whatsoever

Beautifully rendered images: Very, very, slow

Epic: Very, very long

Provocative: Sex scenes

Daring: Sex scenes with children

Tender: Nudity

Effervescent: Vapid

Ambiguous: Underlit

Gritty: Underexposed

Raucous: Overacted

Raw: Unedited

Simple story: Underwritten

Fluid camera style: Rock video

Vibrant: At least one non-white actor

Urban: All non-white actors

Transgressive: All-gay cast

Flamboyant: Transgressive, in drag

Frank: Lesbian cast

Delirious: Amateur

Hybrid: Appeals to fans of neither genre

Majestic: Dull

Mood Piece: Plotless

Moody: Suicide-inducing

Sly: Snide

Surreal: Random collection of shots

Uplifting: Naïve

Warm, Charming: Inane

Heart-wrenching: Sappy

Seamless: Sleep-inducing

Oblique: Opaque

Challenging: Absolutely unwatchable

Intimate: Home movie

Meditative: Endless

Rich: Overstuffed

Original: Gimmicky

Eerie: Depraved

Unsettling: Nauseating

Understated: No dialogue

Impressive: Director managed to finish it.

Sometimes the reviewers get stumped entirely.