Friday, February 22, 2013

Blockbusted (AKA The Day I called Bob Holness a Tw*t on TV)

Maybe staying up so late the night before filming wasn’t such a great idea, but at the age of 16, when you get the opportunity to lose your virginity to a Bishop’s daughter you’d be foolish to pass it (or her) up. Anyway how was I to know that it would be me and my schoolmate that would have our name’s pulled out of the hat to actually film the following morning.
A glorious array of kooks, geeks, swats, spots and grots had been there for ages waiting for their chance shine. We had landed the day before with the expectation that we would be around for at least a few days; watching filming, learning the hand jive and trying to spot Boon in the Central TV studios canteen.
Before we knew what had hit us we’d been randomly selected, we were first up, challenging the dude who’d the previous day flown through two rounds and who’d then retreated to the hotel for an early night so he’d be fresh for his third and final attempt at completing a clean sweep of Gold Runs. I felt like I was watching myself from afar, swimming through murky canal water with a groggy brain barely responding to the increasingly bizarre stimuli presenting themselves to me. Bob was asking me about my boyhood rock climbing hobby and I was responding monosyllabically, unable to gather my thoughts. Why do people film TV shows at the ungodly hour of 9 O’clock in the morning? Where have they got all the old people in the audience from? Why does the desk just look like a crappy piece of plywood with a buzzer hastily taped to it alongside a dodgy electrical connection – when on TV, viewed from the other side, it looks quite professionally constructed.
Things started well, my first answer of Inspector bagged us a blue “I” on the board. Things went downhill from there. Maybe going on the show with a soon to be sectioned, paranoid schizophrenic wasn’t the ideal recipe for success. I got a pound for every minute of my fame (as did my team mate, which wasn’t bad considering he didn’t contribute towards any of the two further questions we managed to get right – the only thing he had done was inform Bob that his role on the 6th Form Committee involved organising “Disco’s and Do’s and stuff”). By 10am we were on the train heading back to Manchester with our signed dictionaries and our hideous rugby shirts – no I didn’t ask for a P, or an E, I think the best I’d asked for was a Y. I’d even had to hound Bob to sign my dictionary, once he’d seen how badly we had performed he treated us like bad smells that he was steadfastly attempting to avoid. The only high point was realising once the show had aired that the TV cameras had successfully captured me calling Bob Holness a tw*t, I had mouthed the insult as he inanely arse kissed our successful competitor.

 Jonathan Cross


She rolls over. Bleary eyed, dry throated she surveys a room she knows is not her own. A room she should not be in. She smiles idly at the weight of his hand gripping onto her hip. She feels awful. She feels brilliant. Beside her, he breathes slowly. She turns her head to him as her eyes trace the shape of his darkly decorated shoulder, his neck, his torso  - his face. She thinks that he is beautiful in his abandon, this man, this long lost friend-turned stranger, who knows her so intimately. A badly buried twang of conscious pricks behind her eyes and she flinches at its sharp attack, pulls his beige duvet closer towards her and swallows her guilt back down. This is not who she is. This is not what she intended. Oh God, she hopes his flat mates didn’t hear them. She tells herself, she is not ‘that sort of girl’ and tries not to picture what’s waiting at home.  She wonders what would happen if she never left this bed. She wonders what would happen if she weren’t such a coward. She wishes life were simpler.

Besides her, he pretends to sleep. He keeps his breathing slow and even, he feels her watching him, yet still he keeps his eyes closed. He cannot face the inevitable breezy conversation that will unfold should he open his eyes and look down into hers. Mornin’. Yeah yeah, great night, it was fun. Hangin’ now though - haha. Great yeah. No, it’s not weird – both adults. We were just drunk. Probably should steer clear of each other though, yeah? He shudders – fucking ridiculous. His hangover throbs behind his eyes as he remembers. Last night they sat and put  art, music, their friends, the entire fucking world to rights until there was nothing left to do but put their own pitiful worlds into chaos and fall frantically into bed together.   He wonders about this faceless man she has at home – who he is? Why he doesn’t notice, or care that his girlfriend hasn’t come home? He grips her hip bone possessively. For now, at least, she belongs here. He wishes he knew what to say.

The alarm clock screams into the silence. They smile up at each other awkwardly. Strangers again. Unwilling.  They roll out of bed in guilty silence. He picks up his phone and checks his Facebook as she dresses. They exchange the stilted words they were both dreading.  Peck on the cheek. Unbrushed hair. Wrinkled t-shirts. Tired eyes. Off to face the next 12 hours. Weeks. Years.

The day starts – real life resumes.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Silent Mayday

"Mayday Mayday Mayday!" It's sounds urgent enough. Loud enough. The room is getting hotter. Surely they heard him. He tugs on his partner but exhaustion is taking over. "Mayday Mayday Mayday." The comms are all over the place. Companies talking, nobody listening. He knows he can't leave. "What the fuck is going on out there!?" His partner is getting heavier. He drags him for what feels like miles, only to move inches at a time. He grabs his radio and keys the mic, "Ladder 11 - Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Firefighter down 3rd floor!" His voice calm and precise. He thinks to himself Come on you fuckers, answer! The comms squawks with a static hysteria. The room is darkening. This isn't a good sign, he thinks. He drags his partner a little further. Inch by inch he works his way toward where he thinks the stairs are. He needs help and he knows it. Getting to the stairs is one thing, but his partner is too heavy to be dragged out alone.

Outside on the street, Chief Marty Sullivan knows this fire is getting away from him and his men. It's only a matter of time before they will have to fully retreat from the structure. For all he knows he has guys working on the 2nd floor pulling ceilings. The 3rd floor was evacuated and the focus of this attack is now the 2nd floor. Companies inside fight to gain an upper hand on the stubborn fire. They tear through sheetrock walls and yank on ceilings. The fire is above them as it tries to extend to the 3rd floor. "Engine 4 to Ladder 11... Engine 4 to Ladder 11... Engine 4 to Ladder 11... Are you on the 3rd floor? The fire is right below you." Engine 4 is Lt. Sam Connell. He holds his radio receiver close to his ear. No answer. The comms static for a second like wind blowing through the radio. Outside the the horns are going off, interior attack is over, everyone out. The 2nd floor is getting hotter and darker. Smoke banks down to the floor. Lt. Connell turns to his firefighter, Danny Earheadt, "I think Ladder 11 is still upstairs." Just then the evacuation tone is sounded. The chief sees something he doesn't like and orders immediate evacuation of the structure. Lt. Connell is blind in the thick smoke. He crawls with his firefighter on their bellies but loses his place amongst the chaos. Another member crawls right by his face and knocks off his helmet. "Sorry, Who's that!?" Says a voice. "Sam Connell, is that you, Kev?" Lt. Kevin Saguer was following Engine 4's hose line to the exit. "Yeah it's me, I have the camera, so you go ahead of me and follow the line out. I'll watch you through the camera." The camera is heat sensing and allows Lt. Saguer to watch the other members in front of him. Suddenly a loud banging sound comes from directly in front of them, "This way boys, over here, follow the noise!" It's Danny Earheadt signaling the guys toward the stairwell. "Wait! Did you hear that!?" Shouts Lt. Connell. Saguer stays still and quiet in anticipation of some noise. "I don't hear anything." "I thought I heard a Mayday. It was faint though, like a whisper." At that point a dispatch comes over the radio and initiates a roll call to account for all companies exiting the structure.
Connell and Saguer know the conditions are getting worse and they move toward the stairwell. They slide along the slimy floor mixed with soot and water. Getting to the door way they work their way toward the stairs. Lt. Connell takes another look behind him but  visibility is zero. His flash light is devoured by the snotty smoke. He starts to slam his hand on the floor, "anyone still in here!? This way, the stairs out are here..." A few silent seconds go by. The sound of crackling is getting louder and the rooms are getting hotter. He turns to head down the stairs. The silhouette of Saguer and Earhardt are barely visible as they make it to the bottom step and out the door. Connell feels the heat begin to pick up again. It's gonna flash, he thinks to himself as he fiddles to find each step with his foot. "Command to Engine 4," busts through the radio. "G'head Chief..." The radio crackles, "What's your.." "...Mayday..." "..cation..?" The Chief's message is briefly stepped on. I definitely heard a mayday, Sam Connell says to himself. He lies across 5 or 6 steps, halfway between the 2nd floor and the relief of the outside world. "Engine 4 to command, be advised your message was stepped on by a mayday. Engine 4 to the mayday, what's your location? Identify yourself." The radio is silent and still. Everyone heard Connell's transition to the chief. They wait. Torturing silence. Chief Sullivan radios dispatch, "Did you receive a mayday?" They are adamant no such call was made. "Command to dispatch, initiate a roll call..." "Command be advised we have not made contact with Ladder 11..."