This is England

This is England

Intro from Jay Allison: Okay, there’s something appealing about a mother and son producing team. And the $50/program budget. And the accents are irresistible. But there’s something more here. Your average media portrayal of “ordinary” people often lands in the sand-traps of false sincerity or winking irony or condescension. But here, there is a lack of ego in the production style, little self-promotion or focus on the frame. What is present is the power of neighbors talking and listening. To us at Transom.org, housed as we are in a small town public radio station, this idea resonates. We think it’s important. We like it coming on the eve of Studs Terkel’s arrival. We think, as Carol Wasserman said in her editor’s notes: “What is relevant to producers of American public radio is not the subject matter of these pieces so much as their approach to subject. The tone of plain unmediated decency.” And there are funny parts too.

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Listen to “This Is England”

This is from an email we received. Would you have wanted to hear the program?

Cesspool Sid
Cesspool Sid

I just wanted to let you know as a regular visitor to Transom.org how much I enjoy the sense of community it’s begun to foster amongst radio producers. I’m based in the wilds of rural England, but somehow don’t feel quite as out of touch now.

I’ve just been reading the .pdf version of the Kitchen Sisters discussion on Transom. It made for interesting reading. Their comments on working partnerships and collaborations brought a smile to my face. You see I work with my mother! Don’t let that put you off, We work extremely hard to produce “This is England.”

This is EnglandWell, we wanted to hear it and we found it, I don’t know – not just quaint, but refreshing. Simple. Just the neighbors going about their jobs, talking about their work to someone who listens. The Constable, the owner of the sweet shop, Cesspool Sid, the neighbor who built a machine to find and destroy land mines in faraway places. With Studs Terkel coming soon, it seemed just the thing. Have a listen.

*Note: Helen of our team edited a few bits together for this Transom sampling.

Chris Butterfield

About
Chris Butterfield

There's no way around it I'm a huge radio fan. If I'm not reading about my other love, Aviation, then I'm probably editing or doing something radio related. It's not surprising when you consider Liz (my mother) made a radio program for the BBC from a tug boat while seven months pregnant with me. You could say I got the radio bug while "in utero"! Years later I studied Media at College, heading towards a career, I hoped, in movie special effects. It was at college I read the film director Frank Capras' autobiography. One particular line stuck in my mind. He said, "What interests people most are other people".Going on from college to study for my degree, my dreams of University graduation came to abrupt end when Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome followed a bout of Influenza. But I remembered Capra's words and they were the inspiration for "This Is England - Real People, Real Stories". Material for the programs is recorded using a minidisk and then edited using an ordinary PC running Cool Edit Pro. I prefer the production side of program making as well as designing the supporting web site. To stay within our tiny budget (about 50 dollars per program) we've had to beg, borrow or make our equipment. My favourite invention is a huge padded blanket, which we use to absorb reflected sound out on location. It works like a dream.

Liz Fawden

About
Liz Fawden

Liz Fawden is my professional name. I first became involved in radio when I made a documentary for BBC Radio Woman's Hour a very long time ago. Whilst teaching I did a course in radio production and once interviewed successfully for voice over work, but never took things further until I teamed up with Chris professionally 2 years ago. You'll guess my real surname if I tell you I'm The Producer's producer. I genuinely enjoy meeting such interesting people who feature on "This Is England". Each program is meticulously researched and I spend many hours in pre-production planning. Even then there is always something that doesn't go to plan and I love having to think on my feet. My next challenge is to learn to use editing software and share the post production load with Chris. Can anyone tell me where the "On" button is located on a computer, please? In the far distant past I was a graduate of the University of Essex with a B.A. Hons Degree in Politics and I also hold a Post Graduate Teaching Certificate in the education of children with special needs.

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  • Jay Allison

    6.28.01

    Reply
    This Is England

    Okay, there’s something appealing about a mother and son producing team. And the $50/program budget. And the accents are irresistible.

    But there’s something more here.

    Your average media portrayal of “ordinary” people often lands in the sand-traps of false sincerity or winking irony or condescension.

    But here, there is a lack of ego in the production style, little self-promotion or focus on the frame. What is present is the power of neighbors talking and listening.

    To us at Transom.org, housed as we are in a small town public radio station, this idea resonates. We think it’s important. We like it coming on the eve of Studs Terkel’s arrival. We think, as Carol Wasserman said in her editor’s notes: “What is relevant to producers of American public radio is not the subject matter of these pieces so much as their approach to subject. The tone of plain unmediated decency.”

    And there are funny parts too.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    6.30.01

    Reply
    Quiet charm

    I imagine this modestly presented program is a great community asset, setting a such a respectful, democratic tone. Good neighbors all around.
    I’m curious as to when and where this program airs. What is its audience?
    and how did it all start?

  • Liz Butterfield

    7.01.01

    Reply
    From Liz

    Nannette, thank you for raising the one issue we dreaded but knew was coming. We try hard to avoid the impression that we are living in the past, but of course we are living "with" it every day and all the time. Please believe me when I say we go to some lengths to balance the interviews and fight every tendency to be twee.

    The whole point of the program was that we should get out of the way as much as possible and let ordinary people here speak to ordinary people everywhere.Its not that we don’t have problems within our society, serious ones, but that was never our remit. We know we run the risk of being "sugary" but we try not to be. I am always aware that by the time an interview takes place I’m talking to someone whose skills and knowledge far exceed mine and who is generous enough to want to share them. So yes the tone is perhaps respectful, but I think it should be. "Democratic" has me puzzled a little – I’d never thought of it that way. The parameters are that we will interview
    any enthusiast whatever their passion,so long as its legal, decent and honest.

    How did it all begin? Well Chris was bored silly at home when illness ended his University career and I suggested he do some Community work. We had discussed the radio project for some years but never said exactly what form it would take. Chris began by making a short documentary for talking Tapes For The Blind about a man who has a "sit on" model railway that runs around his garden.It was the only time Chris was front of mike and he didn’t enjoy that part at all. The Talking Tapes took the piece rather grudgingly and aired it on side two of their weekly edition. It received such a favourable reception that within days they rang Chris and wanted a piece every week. In our first year we came second from hundreds of entries in the BT Soundings awards for Talking Tapes.

    I got involved as the voice as I’d done it once many years before and came with out a need for any fees. We were having great fun and decided to make a short series of six half hour shows. Quickly we realised that we would need a minimum of 13 and eventually 26 x28 minute programs and that that represented a full years work for us. We are well into the middle of that as I write.

    Except that we always give it to Talking Tapes, we don’t air the program in the UK and probably never will. The only likely purchaser here in the UK is of course the BBC who have domestic broadcasting of spoken word material pretty well sewn up. They cut their list of approved independent suppliers just as we got up and running, and even if they did purchase it the deal would be crippling. For one very modest fee they insist on all the reproduction rights to the program anywhere in the world and for all time. We would be giving it away for a pittance to an organisation that might decide never to use it.

    Our purpose has always been to have fun and staying independent is an essential part of that process.

    What is the audience? Well it was designed to appeal primarily to the baby boomer generation who are now in their 50’s. We knew they would have the listening skills to stay with an extended 13 minute interview. We chose the music to create an atmosphere of quiet relaxation and imagine it would fit in the schedules in the late evening or small hours when listeners are unwinding from a hectic day. The interviewees are all of about the same generation – inevitably – it takes time and experience to become an expert in something.

    At the moment it will be broadcast mainly in parts of the world where English is the mother tongue, but we can see a role for it where the acquisition of English as a second language is important too. There we are having problems as we don’t write or speak any of these languages sufficiently well to approach the Station Program Directors.

    The program is offered free to any public service broadcaster, educational station and local community station anywhere. We knew we had to do this to create an audience. It will be aired first on WUEV Evansville in August and a little station called The Breeze Fm in Australia. But by the time the Autumn schedules come into being it will be going to over 150 stations world wide and about 15 of those will be in the USA and Canada. We just don’t have the time or resources for a proper launch, so approaching new stations by e mail is something that happens sporadically when the pace of work slackens. We do research our approach thoroughly and offer it mainly to stations already taking the BBC World Service overnight or WRN. To take the show all we need is a request by e mail.

    Liz Butterfield

    PS Thank heavens someone else posted to the list! We had begun to wonder if we had disappeared into a black hole of indifferent boredom!

  • Andy Knight

    7.01.01

    Reply

    >PS Thank heavens someone else posted to the list! We had begun to wonder if we had disappeared into a black hole of indifferent boredom!

    Not at all! Posting the first question is like taking the last slice of pizza– everybody wants it but nobody thinks they deserve it. My first question certainly wasn’t deep or profound enough to take the slice, but at last I can finally find out what has been nagging at me all weekend. What is Jay’s (or J’s) Fluid?

    Your previous post is quite enlightening. I had no idea the BBC was quite that awful to its contributors. It’s a wonder why you haven’t run off and joined the Puritans. So, if you aren’t going through the BBC and are giving away your wonderful programs to so many organizations, where do you receive funding? Finally, have you gained some sort of celebrity status amongst the blind?

  • Liz Butterfield

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Dear Andy,

    Well that’s a relief to know! I had begun to fear logging on and looking.

    Jeye’s Fluid is a really savage bactericide that’s been around for decades in the UK. It comes in a tin because it corrodes everything else and will kill practically everything short of Ebola. It looks like tomato fertiliser with a slightly oily rainbow sheen and smells -well like Jeye’s Fluid. Its a definitive product like "the Hoover". In my misspent youth we would mix it down the toilet pan with another product called Sanilav. One was a strong corrosive acid and the other a strong corrosive alkali, but I could never remember which. It was a dangerous trick but we would pour in just sufficient of each, slam down the lid and run for it. There would be a muffled whoomph as the explosion lifted the toilet lid and it fell back down again. Alas there were unforeseen hazards if you got the amount wrong for it generated a tremendous amount of heat. I recall one poor soul who had to explain to their parents how they had cracked the toilet pan.

    The problem with the BBC is not confined to radio alone and they are currently facing legal action brought by independent television producers for similarly restrictive practices.

    Our funding comes entirely from the domestic budget and a few CD’s we sell of the program via a local bookshop. We work mostly with borrowed equipment loaned by other enthusiasts. Part of the fun we have comes from the ingenuity of making something from nothing or very little. We have just lined out Chris’ rickety old 6 x 8 garden shed with carpet samples we got from a recyling project. Its like working in a woolly patchwork quilt, but the sound quality is surprisingly good provided we record at the right time of day.We cannot get rid of the mating call of the local lawnmowers and "Dotty" his deaf neighbour is inclined to appear suddenly and shout to her friends several gardens away. Our next project is to find the funds for a "shotgun" directional mike and two radio mikes. The latter is essential after you have spent an hour in the driving wind and rain on the top of a stagecoach with just a thin metal rail to hang onto, and Chris complains because the mike wasn’t always pointing right at the driver.

    Chris’ other neighbour is Wynn and she is blind. When I first met her, her reaction was , "I know that voice." But if there is a blind community event to which we are invited its usually Chris who represents us. Since he is now editor and producer rather than host no one knows who he is and I think he is secretly a little disappointed. Wynn proofs each program for us and enjoys getting to hear it all first.

    Who are these Puritans with whom we might seek radio asylum? Do you mean the Pilgrim Fathers? They sailed first from Dent’s Creek in New Holland, Lincolnshire (named after a reprobate ancestor of mine) and then down the coast to Boston before setting out across the Atlantic. They were arrested and imprisoned in Boston in a cell that still exists and I have the feeling they were only allowed to sail because it was assumed they would drown out in the ocean. The descendants of the men who urged them to sail are probably currently running the BBC!

    Liz Butterfield.

  • Jay Allison

    7.01.01

    Reply
    Not in England?

    we don’t air the program in the UK and probably never will.

    Really? Isn’t there even a local station in Lincolnshire that would want to feature its own voices? I find this hard to believe.

    One reason we picked this program for Transom is that it models something interesting for public radio in America, namely a bootstrapped, inexpensive program done with heart from a Place, about a Place, but still telling about larger ideas. I see that as one way individual public radio stations in the U.S. can remain relevant to their communities and also share their stories with the rest of the country.

    Yet, you’re heard only in various spots around the world, not in your town or region or country.

    One concern we had about the program was that it would be perceived as too deliberately "quaint," too postcard-y. And perhaps that element exists, but I think there’s a feeling of good heartedness that helps it rise above.

    Do you think these interviews would not be appreciated if they aired in Lincolnshire?

  • Jay Allison

    7.01.01

    Reply
    also, Liz…

    Don’t be bothered by a lack of response. It takes a while.

    And, many more people listen and read, than write. People are shy, even though we’re all so friendly around here.

    One remedy is that our "agreement" for accepted work is that producers have to comment on other work here. Mandated Community Participation!

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Liz,
    what did I do? Did I sound sarcastic? I didn’t mean to be. I wrote that your program had "quiet charm." By quiet I meant you don’t get in the way, and you’re not flashy. By charm I meant honestly endearing, as in I’m grateful for the approach that lets your subjects speak and teach me a little. What does "twee" mean?

    Just to be clear, I do think you manage to do what you say, let people speak. By democratic I meant you treat people equally, give equal access.

    Cesspool Sid talked about an hare? a hare? Did I get that right? In the states we have rabbits, and the hares are pronounced with a breathy "h." I wonder whether you’ll have to do a little translating or explaining in your narration to get those difficult words across internationallly.

    It is a real shame this isn’t on the air in England.

    Are Talking Tapes lent out? I’m in Germany right now, but in the town where I live in Massachusetts I believe the similar service, the Audible Ledger, is read over the local public access channel of cable television. Maybe this is where the revolution will begin. First blind people and their friends will demand more independently produced programming.

    150 stations?? I don’t know anything, but that sounds like much more than a proper launch to me! Congratulations!

  • Liz Butterfield

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Dear Jay,

    In Lincolnshire there are two radio stations in Lincoln and what passes for a tiny local outfit in Grantham. BBC Radio Lincolnshire uses spoken word material but is not for us for reasons I have already outlined. The commercial station Lincs Fm plays only pop music and trivia quizzes aimed at what comes after A in the alphabet style of audiences. Gravity Fm is a temporary music station the quality of which I will say no more about. So there is no natural outlet at present. I had forgotten that the University of Lincoln is applying for one of the new community broadcasting licences ( a new idea in the UK!) and is keen to take our show. However they will not be up and running for at least a year.

    So its sell to the BBC or nothing at the local level for now. There is something inherently rigid about many British institutions and after weeks and weeks of wasting time we decided to go it alone. We did wonder about the London Radio Service and contacted the Foreign Office who hold the purse strings. That was an even more foolish move than local radio!

    Would the interviews be appreciated if they were aired in Lincolnshire? You bet – we sell the CD and Cassette versions through the biggest local bookshops to help finance ourselves and sales are steady and popular.We get some great feedback.

    "One concern we had about the program was that it would be perceived as too deliberately "quaint" , too postcardy……"

    Its the one thing that has bothered us all along.Its probably why I got the wrong idea from Nannette’s compliment about its "quiet charm" for which I offer Nannette my sincere and public apology. We see ourselves represented in your media in two ways. Let me try and find examples…..

    There was a film called "Three Men and a Little Lady" where much of the action took place in a weird pastiche of what Hollywood considered to be England. It was excruciatingly embarrassing to watch and to realise that much of other nations’ views about us is derived from such twee (quaint) nonsense.

    Or we hear of dire but wholly inaccurate news reports in which the nation is under siege because of Foot and Mouth Disease and funeral pyres burn in every village. To make it worse the doom and gloom guys at CNN mixed up Foot and Mouth with New Variant CJD ( Mad Cow Disease) and put us in effective quarantine as no one wanted to come here any more.

    The difficulty is that we are perhaps a little old fashioned in rural areas. London is the trendy place to be if you want music and fashion, but most rural populations avoid the cities like the plague. We are not sugaring the pill in these interviews – these are real people and they live the lives they describe. We edit out the "ers" and the "ums" and pick the most interesting parts of about one hours recording to cut down to 13 minutes. But we do not slant the material to create a fantasy England. Our interviewees would not co-operate with us if we did that and our reputation would soon be destroyed. Its regrettable that we do only have 13 minutes for some of these people are very remarkable. Do we make a program out of every interview? No. Sometimes we fix up what seems to be an interesting topic on paper and its a nightmare when we get there. The cricket expert is probably beyond salvaging – he had chronic sinus problems that left his voice a flat monotone interspersed with what quickly became a sickening catarrhal sniff. The man who makes fairground organs from scratch and sells them all over the world has alas only one note to his voice and sang his words at that single pitch.

    Life here really is slower and gentler than in any city, people still have time to talk to each other and the local shops (stores) survive by catering to the individual. There is still room for the "original" in our lives like Cesspool Sid and Nana Bette Vickers. Sid’s little poem, written by himself, appears each fortnight in the local paper as his advert. Bette Vickers is recognised everywhere she goes and is still active at 80 ( she looks 65!).

    This is not Nirvana, but it is a quality of life of which we are very proud and grateful to have. That is what we are trying to share with others everywhere.

    Hope this helps bridge the cultural gap.

    Liz

  • Liz Butterfield

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Dear Nannette,

    Now it really is my turn to apologise.You see I have all sorts of unacknowledged misconceptions about the USA drawn from inaccurate second hand experience. I was expecting some harsh words from very experienced radio professionals in what I think of as a highly competitive world in which you live. I knew the twee ( think quaint) issue was always going to be there and I mistook your kind compliment for sarcasm. I really do wish to say I’m sorry and I now see it was a generous praise indeed. It is perhaps another rather English thing – that we rarely praise openly in this society – preferring to offer criticism wrapped up as faint praise.Its one of the less pleasant things about our way of life and destructive of much talent.

    A hare is the native member of the rabbit family. It has much longer ears than a rabbit, has huge back feet and a bigger body altogether. It does not burrow but lies in the long grass in a small depression called a set. Altogether it is much more useful animal than the pesky rabbit that was only introduced here by the Romans about 2000 years ago. Hares are frequent road casualties because they tend to zig zag as they run and will run ahead of a speeding vehicle rather than into a field and safety. Hence the ease with which Sid found a dead road kill and picked it up.

    I take your point about unfamiliar terms but we debated this at length in the early days. How can it be done with out sounding patronising or teachy? We do our best to use context to fill in the missing gaps but its a difficult one to solve.

    Talking Tapes are sent out each week by local voluntary organisations. The cassette quality is dire and the recording quality is depressing – ask Chris who volunteers when the regular recording technician is unavailable. Its all financed charitably and their equipment is old and worn. Disability rights have a very long way to go to be anywhere near the standards currently achieved in the US and Europe. The excuse is always that it will cost businesses too much to adapt. The BBC has scrapped its popular disability program "Does He Take Sugar?" as a cost saving measure.

    Most of the 150 stations are Australian – but about 25% are elsewhere. The potential is huge if we can just figure it out.

    Liz

  • Chris Butterfield

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Hi Jay,

    Being producer, I’m not used to being out in the limelight. But I thought I’d come out of “hiding” and draft a few words.

    BBC local radio isn’t what you might imagine. It trades on a 60 year old reputation, one which is no longer valid. Think of it as an amalgam of talk radio and a commercial music station. In Lincolnshire particularly, the last documentary that I can recall was aired more than 12 years ago!

    There seems to have been an assumption that the listener has the attention span of a fly. Speech has been relegated to the sound bite between records and the occasional phone-in. The intelligent listener was cut adrift years ago.

    This situation does sadden me, its crazy that the very people who make up the program will never here it. I can give them tapes, but it’s not the same. Not everything’s doom and gloom though, I get a kick out of knowing its being heard and enjoyed around the world. Discovering overseas public radio was like finding an oasis after years spent in a desert. I’ve often joked to Liz about seeking radio asylum abroad.

    Chris

  • larry massett

    7.01.01

    Reply
    what a good idea

    For the first several minutes I actually thought this program might be a parody. The cesspool expert seemed like raw material for Python while the sweet-shop owner who followed was suspiciously quaint: was this perhaps a gentle send-up of rural nostalgia? Then I realized- no, the program sounds exactly the way my local newspaper reads here in America. Every issue is devoted to the occupations or hobbies of a few of the citizens, the tone is sunny and modest, and if you didn’t live here you’d have to conclude that everyone in town is insanely happy. (We do have an underground newspaper which a couple of teenagers put out once in a while, exposing our village as a of hypocrisy and corruption; but this paper is unnecessary since everyone gossips along these lines anyhow. We all know Mr. I is a mean drunk, yet till the above ground paper enlightened us we didn’t know he collects glass doorknobs and used to fish salmon in Alaska.)
    So your project has got it right, I think; it’s useful and entertaining and a model for other communities.

    Have you tried marketing to local stations in America? They’d understand what it’s about, and might be inspired to imitate it.

    As an antidote to the sweetshop I apreciated the interview with the inventor of the landmce. Although I never could form a mental picture of the thing, your phrase "armouto-lifter" probably hit the nail on the head for those who know what a potato-lifter looks like. And the outdoor segment with the archers was very engaging; hope you’re able to get out often, field recordings always catch the ear, for some reason- I’d have listened with just as much pleasure if you’d simply been baiting a fishook. Good work.

  • Andy Knight

    7.01.01

    Reply

    Please don’t judge us based on Hollywood. Hollywood can’t even get the Midwest (Central US) right. In addition, 3 Men and a Little Lady was an abysmal sequel that most Americans chose to avoid. My impressions of rural England usually come from my local PBS station’s rebroadcast of old BBC shows, like Keeping Up Appearances. Maybe that’s why the real deal is so refreshing and authentically quaint (as a very good thing).

    The issue of "translating" from UK to USA is a bit rough. What needs translating and what doesn’t is a bit tricky and you may have to use an American as a sounding board to find out which is which. "Shop" doesn’t need to be translated into "store", we use both. "Twee", without some definitive context, would need translation. Like, Jeye’s fluid wouldn’t really need to be translated in Sid’s story because he gives us enough information… it’s something that destroys the cesspool’s ecosystem. He translated enough of it for the story to come through (my personal curiosity is due to a couple of nasty maggot run-ins where I wish I had something like Jeye’s)

    While the vast majority of us know what a hare is (or at least are able to associate it with a rabbit), we may not be able to distinguish the word "hare" from "air" or "error" when it’s pronounced the way Sid said it. Not a real problem if the context is quickly made quite clear. We have dead air, an error in the road, or a dead hare in the road… it’s a matter of the mind piecing it together in a large enough chunk. For example, They Might Be Giants (I mention these guys
    i a lot!
    ) uses this chunky processing in reverse to play with their listeners in the song "Cowtown" with the lyric "The yellow Roosevelt Avenue leaf overturned." On listening, you pick up "The Yellow Rose", "Roosevelt Avenue" and/or "A New Leaf Overturned" depending on how your mind is processing things. Anyway, the dead (h)are rights itself in the next line with the context (he picks it up) causing a minor distraction for those who mis-heard it as their minds now have to catch up with what their ears missed.

    I’ve lost my train of thought thanks to some fireworks going off downtown… I hope this message translates well enough.

  • Sarah Vowell

    7.02.01

    Reply

    I love specifics. The specifics of various jobs is inherently fascinating. I like the detail in this–the thing about bacteria and cesspools, candy in triangular bags. Sort of the pointillist approach to cultural study, like a Seurat painting where the big picture’s built up by bits. One of my favorite passages in recent American literature is from Tom Perrotta’s novel "Joe College." It’s about a college student from New Jersey who has to go home and help out with his dad’s lunch truck, called the "roach coach." I love the details of this:

    "Making coffee for a lunch truck isn’t anything like making it at home. You can’t just flip a switch and expect piping hot coffee to come pouring out a couple of minutes later. The Roach Coach was outfitted with two 22-gallon double-spigot Tall-Boy urns, each divided into two chambers—left side for coffee, right for hot water. The last thing you did at the end of the day was fill the two right-hand tanks almost to the top with water from the garden hose (it’s important to use a black hose; water from the green ones tastes like plastic). Then, ideally around ten at night, you lit the propane stoves under the urns to heat the water overnight. While you slept, the ten gallons of water heated to the optimum temperature of two hundred degrees, eight gallons of which would be poured through a flannel coffee bag containing two pounds of Gold-Pak restaurant-quality coffee the first thing in the morning. The remaining two gallons of water would be held in reserve for the occasional tea drinkers and Cup-A-Soup fans among our clientele.

    Aside from failing to extinguish the pilot light before filling the propane tank—an oversight that could be potentially fatal, or at least hazardous to the eyebrows—probably the single stupidest mistake a lunch trunk operator could make was forgetting to turn on the stoves before going to bed. Every driver had a cautionary anecdote on the subject—never autobiographical—about some bozo in Bergen or Hudson County, or maybe someone his cousin had heard about in Western Pennsylvania, a fuck-up too stupid or hungover to realize that his urns were dispensing cold water coffee to the biggest, meanest, most unforgiving construction workers around (ironworkers, usually, though some guys substituted pipefitters, apparently for variety), who retaliated for this outrage, depending upon who was telling the story, by 1. Dumping cup after cup of the undrinkable stuff on the head of the hapless driver until he was thoroughly marinated in the juice of his own error, or 2. Teaming up to push the truck on its side, or, most simply, 3. Beating the living shit out of the guy, who absolutely deserved it, because people need hot coffee in the morning, and lunch truck drivers have undertaken a sacred trust to provide it to them wherever they might be."

  • Carol Wasserman

    7.08.01

    Reply
    Program Two

    I hope some of you will take the time to listen to the entire first half of Program Two – the interview with Bob French.

    You will find nothing remotely twee or quaint. Mr. French is fifty-one years old. He expects that his mine-clearing machines will accomplish during his lifetime what would otherwise be "a thousand-year project".

    After serving for many years in the Royal Air Force, and seeing the effects of these weapons, he came home and devised equipment which not only renders the ground safe, but returns it to agriculture. I hadn’t known (had you?) that simply removing or exploding land mines is not enough; hand-grenades, rockets, mortar shells and other ordinance remain behind. And detonate when bumped by farm machinery.

    The compressed version posted here on Transom contains one of my favorite moments from this piece, one which is even more surprising when heard in context: Bob French discussing his work, using the word "ploughshares" in its original sense. Without referring to "swords", although that is in fact exactly what he is talking about. This creates an astonishing resonant silence, a microscopic tic, which fills immediately with the magnificent cadences of the King James Version.

    I urge to you listen through to the end. So that you may hear this retired soldier tell us that "the military would accept casualties". But he would not.

    Some of the messes which are due to be cleaned up – in Cambodia, for example – are ones of American making. But this is never mentioned, because geopolitics is not what interests Mr. French. He merely wants to give people back their farmfields and their lives and limbs.

    Our colleagues in the UK, remember, do this work week after week on a budget of fifty dollars.

  • Viki Merrick

    7.09.01

    Reply

    Apart from the obvious attraction to the voices, the accent – I was particularly wowed by Cesspool Sid. I have a cesspool and it’s old, gets more visits than it should. I always hang around with the guys that come to clean it – partly out of guilt and partly from curiosity about the people who do this kind of job. They have all been cheerful as bakers but NONE of them ever talked about their job with such plain smarts and pride as Sid. There is good value in that, it inspires. The three interviews shared this quality about their work. There is a lot to be said for that – the up side. We are so often inundated with the dark, twisted underpinnings of someone’s lot in life – and both scenarios are equally real. I can almost hear the reverse story – the candy store owner being a junkie or the cesspool guy …well it’s easy to imagine. But no, the beauty of a human being, doing his job the best way and proud of it. It’s not incredible, not twee but refreshing – it stirs up pride and this can only serve the health of a community to know it and feel it.
    It was a delight – I hope we can do something similar here in Woods Hole.

    ps I also loved the archery piece – found myself drawing back the bow across my cheek right along with you. Simple delivers.

  • cw

    7.12.01

    Reply
    like the hear ye transom

    was struck by the amt of time they allowed themselves to go through the drawing back of the bow, bit by bit. will go listen to the whole mine cleaning machine.

  • Hans Anderson

    3.12.03

    Reply
    Late question

    I know this is about a year and a half late, but I’m fairly new to transom.org. I have a technical question for Chris, if he’s still reading here: What type of equipment did you use for recording? You must have mic-ed both your Mom & the archer for such a close sound, back and forth, but separate. Or, do you have a good shotgun?

    Thanks,

    Hans

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