Category Archives: Exploratory Articles

Nostaglic TV Theme Tunes That Survived The 80s!

There is nothing, literally nothing, like a good TV theme. There was a time when TV shows prided themselves on the production of a catchy “lyric” or “jingle” to announce with pride that this was another installment of your favorite weekly programme.

Of course, that was before corporate greed set in €“ you’re now lucky if you get the credits of the production team involved before the first ad break has arrived. This was a golden age, when families gathered around the television on a weekly basis, long before iPlayers and Netflix made it virtually impossible to miss your favorite television.

You had one chance, maybe two if you were very lucky, to catch the stories and the events of the week before they were simply over and done with until the same time, same channel, next week.

In this list we pay tribute to a series of TV themes which, quite literally, rocked our world and are now just distant memories. They stood for the announcement that it was time to see another episode of your favorite show and, years later, still play in our head upon command. They’re the kind of tune you can bring up on YouTube, play at full volume and just feel all magical about, remembering a simple time when everyone sat around and watched that favorite programme on an evening and nobody just put their headphones in and used a laptop instead. Let’s see what’s on…

Going For Gold (1987)

Yet to be recognized by the IOC as an official participatory event, many of us old enough to remember classic daytime television will no doubt be delighted by the addition of this, a true programme of Olympic magnitude to the list.

With a theme composed by Hans Zimmer (bet you didn’t know that) ‘Going for Gold’ was originally aired by the BBC between 1987 and 1996. It’s premise of 7 English speaking contestants, each representing their respective regions, allowed for a battle of both nationalistic pride and fierce loyalty. Since you could only have someone totally neutral present such a programme, the host was none other than Irishman Henry Kelly, who (for my money) was the finest Irishman to present on BBC programming since the late Terry Wogan. But that’s just my nationalistic pride showing.

The theme itself is a very simple and completely dated retro ‘pop’ song which doesn’t do much except describe the situation. But it’s catchy, it’s 80’s and it’s got a quality about it that makes you want to define nostalgia. I defy you to take a listen and not find it the catchiest thing you’ve listed too all day – before you’ve heard what else we have coming up, of course!

Blockbusters (1983)

Are you surprised? Seriously? If you’re looking at this and DON’T know the Blockbuster’s theme tune then I’m sorry to say it’s been a deprived life you’ve led. However, I am extremely pleased to be the person with the honor of introducing you to one of the finest theme tunes you’re ever likely to hear.

I’m really not sure whether the UK video chain Blockbusters named their franchise after this show (the first Blockbuster LLC stores opened in Texas in 1985 so that’s probably not very likely) but regardless this was an insanely popular show that quite literally brought families together. Hosted by veteran actor the late Bob Holness (the first man to play James Bond, don’t you know) this show usually pitted two individuals against a single opponent in a quiz show €“ not unlike tic tac toe €“ where the objective was for players to cross the board with right answers.


But you don’t really care about the rules, not with such classic moments as “I’d like a P please Bob” and the fact that the BBC Proms once played this theme tune live on television at the Royal Albert Hall! Blockbusters was relaunched by Challenge after somewhat of a hiatus, with Simon Mayo as presenter, although it failed (at time of writing) to have more than a single season. I’m only mentioning it because you might like to know I auditioned personally to be on the programme, thus attempting to fulfill a lifetime ambition, but was sorely unsuccessful in gaining a spot. I’m not saying that’s why the programme didn’t catch on, but let’s face it, can’t have helped them.

Baywatch (1989)

 OK guys, and curious girls, this is obviously a big deal. Who couldn’t have been swayed by the sight of Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth, Donna D’ Errico, Traci Bingham, Nancy Valen and Gena Lee Nolin running across that beach to save the injured? You have to imagine that David Hasselhoff, quite literally, got the best job in the world the day he was cast in Baywatch. But all of that pales in comparison to the theme.

Baywatch only officially picked “I’ll Be Ready” as their official theme from the start of the third season, despite the popular belief it was the only theme tune the show ever had, sung by none other than Jimi “Eye of the Tiger” Jamison from the band Survivor.

The studio version of Jimi’s song features on the 1999 album Empires, though sadly that wasn’t as well received, I’ve always found the most magical part of the song is the keyboard solo €“ and if you believe this is just a classic case of the Americans doing it bigger and better than anywhere else, you’d probably be right.

The lyrics are inspiring and evoke a sense of just wanting to go out and save someone €“ to be honest I think US army recruitment officers should just play this track outside their offices and throughout their barracks and that would be the only inspiration you’d ever need. Then I guess David was upset that they never asked to use ‘Freedom’ either….

Brookside (1982)

 The Liverpudlian soap Brookside first appeared on our screens in 1982, bringing us the trials and tribulations of the long suffering residents of Brookside Close, a typical middle class cul-de-sac filled with rather foul mouthed and obnoxious people eager to kick off at the slightest agitation.

Launched before Eastenders (which itself first aired in 1985) to create a more “working class” answer to Coronation Street, it was an atypical 80s soap and it’s theme (obviously very synthesized and written by composers Steve Wright and Dave Roylance) reflected the nature of it’s beginnings. Even when it changed in 1991 to reflect a more ‘modern’ sound it still held that classic tone and hadn’t axed anything the fans knew or loved about it.

While Brookside gained a massive following throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s (with that infamous pre-lesbian watershed kiss in 1994, the incestuous relationship of 96 and the idea of a man selling drugs to children) it was thought the soap would be a main contender against the likes of it’s more big budgeted rivals. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and the show was axed in 2003. However it retains a cult following and several episodes of the show are still available (so I’m informed) on More 4 for your viewing pleasure. If you’d like to blame anyone, I’ve got just one word for you; Hollyoaks.

The Bill (1984)

 When the Bill finished it’s final story in 2010, many felt disheartened, with the show having stood for everything and everyone. The antics of Sun Hill police had been legendary for almost three decades and it was as much a staple of UK television as that bowl of cereal you had for Breakfast in the morning.

And, as good as the show was, nothing could replace the classic (late 80s) version of the show’s theme tune €“ accompanied onscreen by the closing titles and the shot of both a male and female police officer “walking the beat” upon the cobbles. And, yes, while this list is about the opening theme tunes of programmes €“ the Bill’s closing tune was almost identical to it’s opener €“ so I’m going to let it slide. The 88′ theme was composed by Andy Pask and Charlie Morgan, scrapped in 1998 for something that felt a bit more “jazzy” and current, though if you ask me – and many often do – the strengths of a long standing show remain in the familiar nature audiences share with it’s theme tune.

It seem’s there’s just no account for taste, although the fact I can remember playing this stupid game with my younger brother involving hiding from the television because we’d “forgotten to pay the Bill” (being Irish, we didn’t understand the meaning of the word in a Police sense) is clearly indicative of the effects the show had on both ourselves and our long suffering parents.

Funhouse (1989)

Based on the US TV show of the same name, the UK version of Funhouse aired for 10 years on CITV and was presented by Pat Sharpe. There was once a rumor, started on Wikipedia, that Jeremy Kyle presented a week of the programme in 1993 when Pat was on holiday. I’ve never been able to verify whether this is true or not but, if it is, could somebody PLEASE send me that tape?

The tune was actually co-created by Bob Heatlie (should you know him? You certainly should – be created the theme for Animaniacs!) and David Pringle and served as a reminder to children that the school day was over and it was time for some bloody good fun! If you’ve ever been curious as to who the announcer for Funhouse UK was, look no further than Garry King, who currently presents a lunchtime show on Smooth Radio every Sunday.


Gary also did the voice over for the last season of Dale’s Supermarket Sweep, although not (I’m told) any of the other seasons. Children’s television in this period frankly provided some of the best theme tunes going, other notable mentions at this point should include Knightmare and Finder’s Keepers – it’s just a real shame that the quality has dipped so much in recent years. Some of these programmes, although visually dated, still seem fresh and informative when you watch them today. I wonder if you can say the same for the Tweenies and In The Night Garden in 2025. 

MacGyver (1985)

 Armed with an American passport and Scottish heritage (his first name was Angus) there was nothing that Richard Dean Anderson couldn’t do in order to foil the latest terrorist plot.

Many jokes have been made in episodes of Family Guy and the Simpsons among them, about how how MacGyver could conjure out of nothing €“ but asides from the important science he was teaching families – there was a more addictive reason for watching this show; that theme tune.

Yes, in seven glorious seasons the magnificent music that begun every show hardly altered, that instrumental being synonymous with the one man who could “do so much with so few tools” €“ and, if you cared to dance, this was the music to make you get up and dance around too. It defined action, it defined adventure and it also defined Anderson’s mullet €“ which, frankly, I’m a bit disappointed he shaved for Stargate truth be told.

MacGyver returned to US television for a special Mastercard commercial, although this is just implied as opposed to it being officially announced it’s him, and this sparked rumors that Anderson would be reprising the role for an 8th season. Unfortunately, unlike the title of the 5th season episode ‘I Will Always Return’, at time of writing this is most certainly not the case.


Quantum Leap (1989)

 Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr Sam Beckett stepped forward into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished…he awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing a mirror image that was not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better.

And so began, in my own personal opinion, the best introduction to a show in the history of television. Following the adventures of a misguided scientist and his best friend Al (who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Sam could see and hear) Quantum Leap mixed the incredible combination of drama, intrigue and history into an hourly show. And no two shows, even about the same issue, were ever the same.

The introductory speech given invoked a feeling of sympathy for Sam, who was trapped in his impediment, but also made it clear that he was doing good work and (at the heart of things) he enjoyed it all. The saxophone bridge and orchestral instrumental was inclined to give us the feeling that Sam was our classic hero, always facing obstacles but enjoying things immensely and the fact that he himself never got home is an absolute tragedy. Despite running for 5 seasons (in the last of which the theme was “rocked up” with a guitar hook to insert a more “modern” vibe perhaps) the show was abruptly cancelled and rumors of a film adaptation have been floating around ever since.

There’s even a quite excellent, although unofficial, fan episode involving a story around Princess Diana that was created a few years ago to celebrate the shows 20th anniversary. I hope someone reading this realizes that Sam needs to get home!

Having a McDoubt; Living in the Age of Sexual Harassment Hollywood

Earlier today a friend contacted me through social media. I hadn’t heard from them in a while, and saw the notification on my phone as a chance to reconnect, albeit all too briefly in this super information highway kinda world. When I read their dialogue, however, it was nothing like the pleasantries I’d expected to hear. My “friend” had taken exception at the use of a promotional picture on my website.

Informally launched in February 2017, I’ve tried to update this page when I can, but work commitments and real life have made it somewhat challenging – especially when I like every piece on the site to at least have something entertaining or informative to say representative of my voice. Otherwise, I might as well post other peoples original or copied content on my personal space, and that’s what Facebook is for.

Also working within the media bubble, such as film, radio and television; the message informed me that the sender would very much like if I removed a picture from my website featuring myself and director Morgan Spurlock. For those who don’t already know, Spurlock is a director who first shot to fame with the documentary Supersize Me in 2004. Although criticized afterwards for its overreaction and flamboyant tabloid esque journalism, Supersize Me actually raised questions in the cinema going public about their consumption of fast food (in this case, predominantly McDonalds) and also the health concerns it might pose if someone was to include it as part of their staple diet.

In 2008 Spurlock created the now largely forgotten (and well aged) Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?; a documentary allegedly focused on finding Osama Bin Laden in the hills of Afghanistan. I’ve only seen this film once, but I remember it clearly, because I met Morgan Spurlock after the screening. He’d been in Dublin on the European leg of a media tour to help promote the movie and I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of people who didn’t realize he was actually going to attend the screening in person and answer questions afterwards. In a mad rush to the escalator, I managed to be the first person to leave the screen, asking Mr Spurlock if he’d mind posing as a random man (who was attempting to reach the toilet) agreed to take our photo.

Director Morgan Spurlock (a huge early inspiration for me) and myself in 2008, pictured in Cineworld Dublin

I’ll never forget how excited I was going into work that evening at Chartbusters Video Store to tell everyone I’d managed to take the greatest photo with one of the coolest handlebar mustaches in Hollywood. And, being fair, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt I was wearing at the time obviously helped seal the deal. It was one of my first photographed experiences meeting “celebrities” and as I look back on the photographs in my possession also one of the oldest I have.

Fast forward nine years from that brief meeting, and a friend is sending me a message, asking me to remove the photo from my website. Primarily, they say, this is because my association with said photo is embarrassing in light of Spurlock’s recent admissions of sexual misconduct. And they’re very serious about it too.

Admittedly, this is a new one for me. I’ll admit to being very indifferent when I first heard the news of Harvey Weinstein and, in similar vein, Kevin Spacey.  I’ll admit to being a fan of Kevin Spacey’s work, House of Cards has been one of my favorite shows of recent years, and films Spacey has made – such as ‘The Life of David Gale’ and ‘Ordinary Decent Criminal’ have a pride of place in my collection. Not because I own every copy of every film he’s made, but because I rank his work as an actor very highly, and separate the man from the entertainer in the role he’s playing. 

That, I would hope people agree, is very different from me saying we should immediately hire Spacey to work on every project available to him and ignore all misgivings. We should not. But there should be a fine line, particularly in Journalism, where writers are quick to maintain the difference between an entertainer performing a role and a man who has acted inappropriately – and allegedly, illegally – in a number of personal cases. Hulk Hogan’s recent court case brings to mind this very principle, where do we draw the line between the performer/entertainer and their personal identity.

The question with Spurlock remains unchanged, however, should I immediately decide to erase any – albeit extremely brief – association with him from my website because of his actions. And the answer is no. I condemn Spacey and I condemn Spurlock for his personal actions but I will not begin purposefully ignoring to watch the films he appears in or pretending he has never existed or directed. And this is simply because, when it comes down to it, I don’t know the man on a personal level and he hasn’t wronged me in any way. In Spurlock’s case specifically, this photo is a memory for me, a good and positive memory in my media career – am I to undo this and simply pretend it didn’t exist?

There might be arguments that there are other photos, other potential memories to share, but it forces me to invoke censorship in my own life. It forces me to remove something I actually care about, not because of the individuals involved, but because of the memory and the time it represents.

I shall not be removing this photograph because it represents a time and a place. And because, although it might be critical to say Morgan Spurlock has admitted to sexual misconduct to capitalize on both it’s (and his) relevance within the world media; these are the actions of private individuals behind relatively closed doors. 

I feel that if there is one thing the Hollywood allegations have done it has brought to my attention the step down of the male gender in 2017. And I want to be very clear before I elaborate that this is not a sexist or underhanded attack on female gender or empowerment. I welcome equal rights for both sexes and I condemn sexual misconduct in the strongest terms and support any person affected by #MeToo but I ask where – in a world that holds Donald Trump as the most significant example of white male power – a young man might look for an example of hope? In a world every Johnny Depp is forgiven and every Mel Gibson recovers, who are the positive male role models we can depend upon?

5 Delightfully Obscure Easter Eggs You Missed In Portal 2

Valve’s 2007 first person puzzle game Portal was a surprise hit for everyone. The game acted and felt like a first person shooter but you just didn’t go around killing anyone. Instead you solved puzzles based on some simple – and some not so simple – physics problems. Introducing us to GLaDOS – one of the most maniacal robots in Science Fiction since the IG 88 assassin droid – and Chell, a “silent partner” whom the player took control of and completed a series of puzzles without any real indication as to how or why, Portal was a revolution in gaming.

Portal 2 exposed Portal as the prototype it was always meant to be, however, introducing new characters and completely expanding, redesigning and reintroducing us to the story. Despite being set thousands of years after the first game it might as well have been the next day for character Chell, as she made her way through the very history of Aperture Science and you were given a history lesson nobody was likely to forget. But just what did we learn throughout the game’s mysterious second act?

As Chell advances deeper through the history of the company – from the profitable 50’s to the bankrupt 80’s – there’s hardly any time travel at all. Instead we’re given clues and hints to the past and forced – mostly due to the silence of our character – to figure a lot out for ourselves and consistently break down that fourth wall. This is just one of the most enjoyable reasons that you should play this game because Valve have created a way to keep you thinking about this game hours after you’ve completed playing it.

You’ll go back and attempt missions just to check hidden corners and cracks for that secret plaque – not because you have too – but because you’ll want too. Of course you’re also welcome to review this list and have a tiny bit of help getting you started in the right direction. Naturally, there will be spoilers!

5. One of the most entertaining parts of Portal 2 is undoubtedly the voice of ‘Cave Johnson’ (played by the legendary J.K. Simmons) as he directs you through the ruins of Aperture Science’s testing areas. Although you neither travel through space or time there’s an adventure through three decades of Aperture history as Johnson’s narration gives a lot of the insight into the particular companies history during these periods and pieces together a lot of cryptic answers to questions that allow the gamer to ‘break the fourth wall’ and better understand why certain things are in certain places.

When you first encounter GLaDOS (short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) she isn’t happy – probably because your character is responsible for her death in the first Portal game – or probably because you are then responsible for her disconnection and resurrection as a potato-battery. In chapter 7, hidden between the first and second orange gel test spheres, is an office with a portrait hanging on the wall. Its a portrait of Johnson, and we’ve seen lots of photos of the man but this is the only one in which he’s joined by his assistant Caroline.

Upon encountering this photo GLaDOS exclaims that these people look so familiar and if you’ve managed to put the pieces together by this point you notice you’re looking at something far more significant, GLaDOS as a human, before she was uploaded into a robot. There are a lot of theories pointing to Chell’s parents being Cave and Caroline and this portrait is a solid piece of photographic evidence showing a distinctive likeness between the trio.

4. Did anyone else think it was just slightly odd that there was a ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’ included in Portal 2? The remnants of this rather bizarre event include what appears to be a Science fair featuring a number of alternative ways to harness power. As we progress through the room we’re shocked at the discovery of a potato which has seemingly been allowed to grow over the millions of years since it was first placed there and subsequently has large roots going into the ceiling. But if you take a look at the board next to this item you’ll see something quite shocking right in the corner. The project appears to have been designed by a girl named Chell.

Consider for a moment that this project is indeed the work of a young Chell. It meets with the requirements that her parents worked for Aperture (as hinted by GLaDOS) and is even more shocking when you think that their names apparently also began with the letter “C” – I’m not going to put this all together for you but if you’ve even been paying the slightest attention to what I’ve been writing then you should see the significance straight away. What’s even more unusual is that this suggests Chell is responsible for the design which essentially saves GLaDOS programme from deletion for a large portion of the game. It’s all a bit creepy isn’t it?

3. Valve created Half Life and later created Portal 2. In a statement early on the developers made clear that Portal 2 would definitely have some reference and insider knowledge for fans of Half Life. And they didn’t disappoint. Aperture Science proudly displays that on three occasions (in 1949, 1952 and 1954) they received the runner up award in a contractor of the year competition.

When we first encounter the earliest examples of Aperture they’re talking about the invitations extended to Scientist’s and Astronaut’s who have come to test with the program. In the next area Aperture has aged about 15 years, with Johnson mentioning they may be known to the homeless people who have volunteered to test because of the 1968 senate hearings into missing astronauts, hinting at the fact that this is part of the reason the company has run into difficulty. There’s also a photo of Johnson, looking significantly older than in his photo with Caroline, hanging in the lobby of the foyer in this area. Whats perhaps more significant is that while observing this Johnson makes a direct reference to ‘Black Mesa’ saying they can “kiss my bankrupt…” before being cut off by his assistant, Caroline. He alludes that his disgust is due to companies who have managed to steal ideas that he created. Black Mesa using Aperture technology? You never know…

2. Despite being an all powerful super computer GLaDOS obviously weakness appears to be Ornithophobia. There are many unanswered questions about the appearance of this solitary bird in Portal 2 such as how it got that deep into Aperture labs, how it survived, whether this proves the existence of intelligent life above ground and why the only living creature (asides from Chell) to be featured in Portal 2 is this solitary bird. At one point in the game it appears that the bird is looking over a nest although whether he – or she – is protecting eggs was left completely unexplained until the DLC at which point GLaDOS interacts with some baby birds in Art Therapy.

This in itself poses a more fundamentally important question as to where the birds’ mate is? The Caroline portrait and the possibilities of it’s meaning come back to us at this point. It also leads to a different theory which is perhaps even more fascinating: the many, many connections between Portal 2 and the Greek legend of Prometheus, who was “punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man…cast to the bowels of the earth and pecked by birds.” Many cultures have different superstitions regarding birds in the house. In traditional Irish culture, for example, if a bird flew into the house, it was a portent of death. Interesting that GLaDOS is being pecked by birds as Chell awakes from her fall into the bowels of Aperture science. Maybe you’re both already dead by this point? In fact, perhaps the whole game is a mythology based around death, which just sees Chell on a journey to the afterlife.

1. This reference takes the top spot on this list because of it’s ability to cross the boundaries between games and reality. Anybody whose ever picked up a personal turret from the likes of Forbidden Planet (or any other good alternative retailer) can attest to that. In the game you see turret’s being assembled and packed for shipment which almost seems pointless given the collapse of civilization (or so you’d assume) in the years previous. You might even wonder where the finished turrets actually go and if there are nothing but warehouses and warehouses of finished and packed turret’s ready to be shipped?

You see the turret box at various points throughout the game, but the side of the packaging with the most surprising information is only visible in the room where Wheatley tries to kill you with a circle of faulty turrets. According to this illustration sentry turrets were designed – or at least marketed – with the intention of nursery protectors. That might explain their soft voices and gentle tones. I also want to give full credit to the makers of the official ‘Turret Sentry’ action figure which features the same – identical – artwork upon it’s side. Full credit for detail. Personally I’m only disappointed you can’t get a real life sized turret to guard your nursery.

Life sized turrets have been made by fans and are available through certain custom outlets, but without those soft tones and the ability to attack intruders its just not the same.

Sunderland Remembers Ruby Presidential Visit on Wearside

A Sunderland resident has been fondly remembering an historic visit from US President Jimmy Carter to Wearside. Michael Gough, an amateur documentarian and filmmaker, captured the event using his Super 8 millimeter film camera on May 6th 1977. “I remember the moment of deciding to buy a cine camera in 1967 very well” Michael says, who also used the device to capture footage of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Mr. Carter, who served as US President between 1977 and 1981, was America’s 39th President and visited Sunderland on this month forty years ago in an official capacity. Having just three weeks notice to prepare, the visit was very informal by Presidential standards, Tyne Tees Television capturing the event for American networks and the footage of which is now preserved, alongside Michael’s work, by both Yorkshire Film Archive and the North East Film Archive.

Mr. Gough, a now retired educator who moved to the area in the early 1970s with his wife Linda, captured the President’s visit much like any other event he felt might have been of greater significance. “I realized that if I only made family style home movies there would be a very restricted audience so I explored subjects that would appeal to wider audiences” he said recently, speaking to reporter Wayne Madden.

“When I decided to film Jimmy Carter my expectation was that it would be a newsreel filler which might remain of interest for a couple of years. Who was to know that ‘Welcome to Washington’ would do so well and still be shown 40 years later?” Michael remembers the day itself very well, but says that there wasn’t much time to stand on ceremony off camera.

“I was working only a few minutes’ walk from Washington Old Hall. I filmed it during my 1 hour lunch break so I only had about 45 minutes free on location. The filming was a rush to get crowds before Jimmy Carter came, see him at the Hall, then rush away before he planted a tree on the green. There was no planning at all. I simple [sic] responded to what was happening and tried to get enough pictures to tell the story. It was all a bit too rushed to feel any particular emotion or recognize the historical significance.”

President Carter visited the city as part of his tour of the North East, taking a tour of Corning Ltd glass works accompanied by then British Prime Minister James Callaghan. The centre, which was originally part of Sunderland Glass Works, was bought out by the American Corning in 1973 and closed its doors in 2007. Corning in America has worked exclusively with Steve Jobs since 2006 and are perhaps most famous for providing the hardware glass which encases the iPhone.

President Carter arrived in the region when Air Force One officially landed in Newcastle Airport at just after 9:30am on 6th May. As part of his visit to Sunderland, his Presidential motorcade traveled over the Wearmouth Bridge, cheered by people lining the route. Seated in a Daimler car he was formally greeted upon his arrival in the city by the then Mayor of Sunderland, Charles Slater as well as Fred Willey, then MP for Sunderland North, Gordon Eagier, then MP for Sunderland South and other distinguished guests.

President Carter also took time to visit Washington, particularly Washington Old Hall, where he laid a tree sapling alongside Prime Minister Callaghan. The Old Hall is the ancestral home of George Washington, first known as the “de Wessyngtons”, who settled there from 1180AD. One of the smallest buildings in the possession of the National Trust, it is from a member of the family in the thirteenth century that departed Durham, from whom President Washington could trace his lineage. It is also one of the reasons why Sunderland City and Washington USA signed a unique ‘Friendship Agreement’ in 2006 leading to the establishment of Sunderland Shorts Film Festival.

The Washington coat of arms has been said to have inspired the flag of the United States. An example of the Washington coat of arms or shield can be seen in the cloisters of Durham Cathedral. Holding a special ceremony of American Independence every year, the building is often overlooked by tourists in the region, an H-shaped manor house in the heart of Washington village.

Indeed, it is this friendship and jovial attitude which filmmaker Michael Gough remembers most clearly from the day itself, a parallel on how things have changed in the intervening years regarding visits from such a high profile head of state. “I remember being amused by the intended anonymity of the American security guards who stood out like sore thumbs as they wore hearing aids and secretly talked up their sleeves.”

Mr. Carter made a second, far less public, visit to the region in 1987 by which time he had left Presidential office. In 2013 he sent a letter of thanks to Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes after Mr. Forbes had returned to him a framed photo taken on his original visit. Speaking directly to our reporter Cllr Forbes said: “Newcastle has great memories of President Carter’s visit”. “As a result of it our city was twinned with Atlanta – a great transatlantic friendship which has remained strong for the last 40 years. I took a photograph of the event with me on a recent visit to Atlanta, which the mayor’s office arranged to be presented to President Carter.”

The former President, who turned 93 in October, is still very much active in public life and was seen attending President Donald J Trump’s inauguration ceremony earlier this year. This is despite the nonagenarian recently informing an audience he had voted for Bernie Sanders.

At a talk on human rights issues, Mr. Carter went on to say “dissatisfaction with the existing system of politics” resulted in President Trump’s election. “People were willing just to take a chance and to abandon democracy and what we knew about its basic principles and try something new, no matter what it was,” he added.

In Feb 2017 Sunderland AFC Manager David Moyes issued Donald Trump an invitation to come and meet the team ahead of their mid season trip to New York. “If Donald Trump wants to come and see the boys, he’s very welcome,” Moyes is quoted as telling The Express. In a four day bonding session the team were photographed jogging around Central Park and being put through their paces on several exercise routines.

It is not believed that Mr. Trump was aware of or was able to respond formally to Mr. Moyes invitation. When our office contacted the Office for Presidential Correspondence on the matter we were unsuccessful in receiving a response.

Semi Comatose Clock Watching

After the last couple of months and suffering a recent crisis in employment, I found myself both needing a job and also a boost of confidence, suffering a betrayal at the hands of someone I once considered a friend.

There’s been a lot written in the UK media about the lack of employment opportunities in the United Kingdom, certainly there is perhaps written more about Universal Credit and other forms of income benefit. At the time of writing this piece there is a debate in Parliament and among the people about whether a scheme like Universal Credit can work for those most in need, or whether it actually causes more problems than it answers. Examples in mainstream media include a woman named Keeley Sheppard who found herself both pregnant and sanctioned by the Job Center for attempting to move into a new home and start a family.  

Unfortunately for some, I’m not here to talk about that debate or answer those questions in this article.

What I can tell you is that I spent about a month on income benefits this year before finding a job in a call center. I signed on because I had no other form of income, no savings and more outgoings than incoming. There was no question that I depend upon a regular income in order to be able to function on a basic level. Many debt collectors will call this priority billing, things like rent, water, gas and electric. These are the fundamental building blocks which society will see as you needing to have covered before you can afford to have a pint, watch a film at the cinema and buy a copy of South Park Fractured But Whole on XBox One

The so dubbed Brexit hasn’t helped either, and asides from British PM Teresa May saying everything and yet nothing about Britain’s ongoing negotiations to leave the European Union, the reality is that those on the front line of poverty – those who need help the very most – are nervously waiting to see whether their indefinite leave to remain is upheld, whether their average cost per month rises or whether that job is still able to operate lucratively in the UK.

What I’ve been hired to do in the call center and who I’ve been hired to work for is irrelevant. In any case, I’m almost sure I’ve signed a document which prevents me from disclosing that publicly, least of all my background in Journalism means that it would be hugely inappropriate (and most definitely litigious) to give any indication about the nature and cause of my work. On the contrary, I’m actually very grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me by my new employer. It is a job, and a wage, which has allowed me to attempt to rebuild employment and confidence and it is certainly better than remaining unemployed. It also helped prove to me that for those willing to work there are jobs to be found, jobs which are open to members of the public from all backgrounds and jobs which will given consideration as long as you are willing to work hard and be honest.

But instead of focusing on that, this article represents a look at some of the individuals I work with, those who remain unnamed and certainly unidentified in anything but trait and demeanor. I list some of these characters here because they have presented me with a rather whirlwind tour of the world in the past few weeks and I’ve encountered probably the most diverse and complex group of people I’ve met in my entire life. From ex military and ex convicts to those who are returning to work after a long absence, the diversity and difference in each and every individual has left me honestly mind blown.  And I’d like to share some of my favorites with you now.

Ex Military
Recently out of the armed forces, and possibly returned from a tour of duty overseas, the military man is both dutiful and curious. Punctual to a tee he is almost always too early, and will blame excuses like his drill sergeant for teaching him good habits. He will rarely speak about his service, especially any active combat duty, but will reminisce with stories of unusual situations or awkward encounters (such as communal showers). He is also a wealth of knowledge for both his chosen discipline (Air Force, Royal Navy, Armed Forces etc) and knows a lot more about the other disciplines than any “civi” you’re likely to meet. Follows orders and is especially grateful you’re not all getting frog marched through a field or turning over your bunk.

The Ex-Convict, or Penitent Thief
Much like a scene lifted from the Bible (Luke 23:40) the ex convict sits to your right and tells you why a life of crime doesn’t suit him anymore. It reminds me of an interesting ‘Breakfast with Frost’ episode I once saw when I was far too young to realize it’s importance. David Frost was actually broadcasting from live within HMP and his co-hosts were serving prisoners.

The thief always has a number of stories about times when he just managed to evade the capture of the law. He has convinced himself this job is beneath him from the moment he turns up, and he might even be right, but does the job to a tee from the second the clock strikes. His language on the phone is polite as a vicar addressing a Sunday sermon and afterwards he smiles and boasts that the people he’s talking too don’t realize what a danger he was once declared upon society, sitting in the dock while he brandished a knife towards the judge.  Of course, whether you believe his stories or not, you’re likely to engage as the fiction is more entertaining than the work you should both be doing.

The Addict
It’s unlikely you’ll ever speak directly to the addict. The two weeks training before the job are probably about as much time as you’ll collectively spend with him. When it comes to actually doing real work the addict is useless. He (almost always he) finds the job overwhelming, beneath him, disgusting or whatever adjective lets him leave – possibly by assaulting a supervisor or stealing equipment – claiming to his adviser that the two weeks he spent there were actually a month and that creative differences prevented him from continuing. Creative differences being that the company operated during the hours of daylight and asked you to wear both trainers to work every morning. Will also attempt to add you on XBox Live randomly at somestage.

The Return to Work
Confidence is key. The middle aged, possibly divorced, mother of three returning to work has a lot of confidence. It’s also potentially misfiled under helpfulness. You’ll see photographs of her children and hear stories about her last holiday abroad while being amazed she can bring such a well prepared lunch to work every day. It’s healthy and nutritious and a lot better than those “Starbar’s” you keep purchasing from the vending machine. The return to work mom is normally with an agency, who have gotten her this job so that she can have weekly wages while you agreed to monthly. It makes you wish you’d joined through an agency and also that you miss your mom. 

The Hipster Teen
Having accumulated a massive amount of savings in unexplained wealth, the hipster teen is not the subject of a CAB inquiry, but rather the one person who simply doesn’t need to be there. It normally takes the teenager three weeks to realize that nobody else is working in this job out of choice, and that given they themselves have a choice, decide to depart for another job at the earliest opportunity.  Besides, they’re young, don’t need to pay bills and live with their parents. The idea of a job is good on a CV for UCAS applications (which they’re making late after deciding to take some time out, really find themselves) but a number of jobs embellished to make it look like they’ve held three in the space of 18 months (at an age where that would be advantageous) means you hate them about as much as their denim dungarees, Taylor Swift haircut and their ‘appreciation’ for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad, to be serious for a moment, is a critical masterpiece and has changed how we think about television. It is not – not – simply an art project.

Breakdown
Breakdown can take many forms. They can be someone who starts crying at the person on the other side of the phone randomly during a call. For no reason. They can be someone who stands up, smiles politely and then puts their fist through the computer monitor screen causing serious damage and a nasty cut on their hand. Or it can just be that person who casually mentions on a tea break that you’re the first person they’ve spoken too as a friend since the doctor declared them sane and released them from the hospital. I want to be clear, I’m not taking pot shots here at anyone with mental health difficulties, as I know returning to work can be a distressing and awkward time. Actually, those who are so honest as to make these admissions are among my favorite colleagues to work with, people who are the most human of everyone and don’t let work and regulation rob them of their basic honesty.

Ultimately, it all these people and more who have made me thankful to still be with my current employer. When I originally wrote this article I was attempting to define myself into a label through which I fit, but at time of writing realize that in reality the ability for me to succeed – and even grow – in my current employment is because I represent a portion of all these labels (yes, even the convict). A BBC article in October 2017 quoted Paul Farmer, co-author of the Thriving At Work report, as saying that “In many instances, employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.”

So it is with the warmest sincerity that I thank my employer for the normality and sense of normalization I have found working with them. Not just removing me from the financial uncertainty of most self employment and unemployment but also providing me a real way to continue to improve and build upon my most recent achievements.