Monday, 8 February 2016

How I hate emphatics


The motto of the modern media reader or viewer is "I'll be the judge of that". It may lead them to death by natural disaster as they ignore warning signs but they stay true to it. And perhaps truest when it comes to the use of emphatics in newspaper copy.

In his book My Trade, Andrew Marr points out that the number of noughts in a statistics is in inverse proportion to its veracity. He also says that you should answer any headline that starts 'Is this...?' with the answer 'No'. To these, I would like to add rules about emphatics, which have spread like disease into press releases, and from there into the media itself. We know that words such as 'some' and 'very' mean nothing. There's a new breed of word, led by the iniquitous 'stunning'. I hate stunning. I do not feel stunned when I read the word 'stunning'. I am sure I do not want to feel 'stunned'.

Not only are these words worthless, they are overused. Nearly 30% of the emphatics I come across are the words 'luxury' and 'luxurious'. That is followed by 'excellent' on 20% and 'perfect' on 12%. Imagine that. 12% of everything I read about is perfect. How happy my life must be.

Press releases fulfill a valuable function for me. They are a source of facts - of numbers, of descriptions, of amounts. I use them for that. I can see that sneaking the word 'stunning' into a press release that eventually makes it out as broadcast or news copy gives a sense of third-party endorsement from the media. But I believe that is now knocked out by the numbness that readers feel towards these words. They look at something which is 'stunning' and they say "I'll be the judge of that".

Here is an example of a proper reaction to an emphatic. The WCs in trains used to carry the message 'Do not flush in any station', to which wags could add the words 'except Yeovil', 'except Doncaster' or 'except Paisley' depending on which part of the country they were. The train companies have cleverly spotted that this graffiti is due to a wayward emphatic: the tawdry 'any'. The signs now correctly and efficiently read 'Do not flush in station'.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tech in the shooting world


It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for finding deer, it doesn’t work for hitting birds, and it hardly helps gutting and cooking them afterwards. You can stare at YouTube films all you like: printed books are better, more convenient and don’t run out of battery or go pop in the rain. Worse still, tech is nerdy, like sitting in front of an X-Box, the opposite of getting out there and actually doing it. But I love tech for shooting. I am a happy nerd.

The GPS has revolutionised the gamebook. It offers the warmth of an entry that reads ‘There are more geese than ever, many thousands’, the brutality of the entry ‘Various: 4’ and it gives you something else. Ever since the coming of the railways, sport has become mobile. We can now head for the Highlands or the lowlands and, once arrived, shoulder our gun and walk forth. Thanks to Google Maps we can revisit our greatest exploits.

As someone who is lucky enough in his job to go shooting all over the world, Google Maps has made my life relivable in front of crackling fire, whisky in hand, dogs snoozing at feet. A KML file does what a gamebook should do. Upload it to Google and you can swoop in and out of the glens or the rides where you stalked, you can tramp the mud like the wildfowler you were or skim like a grouse over pixelated moorland. It can bring it all back in a similar way to the antlers mounted on the wall, or the photograph of you holding that fish.

The first example I saw of tech invading the tweedy fortress of sport was in the 1980s when a friend of mine caught a salmon and took a photograph of it on the river bank next to a tape measure. He then blew up that photograph to actual size, mounted it on a board, cut it out and hung it on a wall, providing him with more detail though less sensuality and certainly easier dusting than anything Malloch of Perth might manage. We little group of fishermen in those days tried to think of many reasons why this tech outrage might not be a good thing but we had to agree, it is effective. Thirty years later, today, many of that little group own mobile phones and a few even type their own letters.

Today there is wearable tech. I make films with George Digweed, 26 times world champion shot and – little-known fact – keen early adopter. He once made a DVD while wearing what he calls a ‘fireman’s helmet’ camera set-up that gave the viewer an idea of what he was seeing down the barrel of his gun. He has since been on the look-out for ways of recreating this sight picture even better, and experimented with everything from GoPro’s new Sportsman Mount to Google Glass. He hasn’t found it yet but he is still looking.


GoPro’s new Sportsman Mount

For my most recent birthday, I got the watch I wanted. It is called (truly awful name coming up) an LG Watch Urbane, similar to an Apple Watch but it belongs to the Google universe. It doesn’t make me any more urbane than I am already (at least in my own mind) but it does repeat the notifications from my mobile phone in watch form and allows me to ignore them with a peevish twist of my wrist, rather than fishing around in my pocket, pushing aside conkers and spent cartridges in order to locate my phone. I love that. As yet, I have found no useful hunting, shooting nor fishing app in the ‘Android Wearable’ section of the Google Play store, but I have hope that someone will think of one. It is waterproof, which will help.

Another thing it does that pleases me mightily is that it tracks my health. Like most shooting types, exercise is not my problem so much as whisky intake and I am glad it has not worked out a way of tracking that. It actually seems to be impressed that I exceed my target daily footsteps by a factor of two or three. Perhaps insurance companies will start to favour hunting types. And the best bit is that it only has four states for mankind: walking, bicycling, travelling by car, or travelling by public transport. It works out what you are doing by matching your location with topography. So, if you are walking along a railway track, it assumes you are travelling by train. It logged the 25 miles I did driving round farm tracks looking for cullable deer as bicycling, buzzed me on the wrist and gave me a perky little message about how much better I must be feeling. How right it is.


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Monday, 17 August 2015

The BBC 'does' the CLA Game Fair

Muffin & Mina, the Fieldsports Channel cockers, as Tweeted by BBC Countryfile

Imagine a tweed-coated, gumbooted farmer in a flashy London nightclub. Well, it's been a bit like that with the BBC's visits to the CLA Game Fair in 2015.

BBC1's primetime Countryfile led on on it this week. Click here for the show. BBC Radio 4 broadcast its flagship news programme Today from the show. Jim Naughtie's spaniel recently died, aged 16. He got quite misty-eyed at the sight of the Fieldsports Channel cockers in the front row of the Game Fair Theatre audience. And he made an excellent piece about the spirit of the Game Fair which you can no longer listen to because of the BBC's peculiar attitude to copyright.

There were some odd bits, of course. They still regard hunting and shooting as 'controversial' rather than 'normal', so it still gets a breathless, newsy of coverage. They are still surprised that shoots are where conservation takes place and the RSPB is all about money and fundraising. They seem to think it is the other way round. Also, lion hunting might not be overwhelmingly popular among British shooting folk but the #Cecil story was raging and the CLA Game Fair is the go-to place for those Brits who do want to book a lion hunt. No mention of that on the BBC. Maybe they don't know.

Give them time. What's important is that the CLA game fair gets more visitors than the Glastonbury Festival and now it is on its way to getting a tiny percentage of the airtime too. Well done the BBC!

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