Monday, 11 June 2007
Alex Horne - 11th June 2006
Owen and I often rely on the idea that words like ‘amateurish’, ‘shambolic’ and ‘late’ can all be taken to mean ‘charming’ if we smile and apologise enough. Our approach to this quest has been decidedly haphazard so far; we’ve bumbled along, pinching (not grabbing or seizing) opportunities when they’ve presented themselves, but rarely having anything approaching a plan or a tactic, let alone a manoeuvre.
We always knew the media could be a useful tool. But as neither of us is very good with any sort of tool we never really talked about it and kept on shuffling up to people in person at random on the street – the equivalent of having a look at every single page on the world wide web instead of letting google look for you.
The thing was, we enjoyed the search and didn’t really want someone else to do it for us. Besides, putting an ad in a newspaper seemed a little bit like cheating.
But then The London Paper got in touch with us and offered to feature this blog on ‘The Web’ section of their thelondonnightin page. Well, we thought, it’s a free paper and their internet page probably wouldn’t be read by all that many people, what harm can it do? We had our picture taken (in the grounds of The Sun, the two of us smiling nervously behind Owen’s globe – thus recreating the universe in Wapping) and the article was published on April 30th. The next day, to our surprise, the floodgates, while not opening entirely, definitely started to leak.
People from around twenty different countries got in contact and our project received the shot in the arm we hadn’t really admitted it needed. Because even now, after that flurry of self-identifying nations, we’re still not halfway to our target but are almost two thirds of the way through the year. Neither of us is talking about it but our mountain’s getting bigger.
Thankfully, the article in the paper wasn’t only noticed by those much-needed nationalities. Various London-based websites also got in touch and published links to our blogs, turning up several new countries in the process. BBC London then got hold of the story with the result that on May 30th at 7.30am Owen and I found ourselves back on Trafalgar Square, in the rain, standing by a BBC London Radio Van with a roving reporter called Rob. We’d agreed to do an appeal for countries live on air. It seemed like another good and harmless idea. We gave them a shortlist of our ten most wanted countries. They duly ‘appealed’. And while much of the breakfast show was then dominated by an enormous and ill-informed argument about how many countries there actually are in the world and Owen and I were encouraged to approach people who were clearly busy/British/not from a country we were looking for, they did eventually unearth Emmanuel, a very nice man from Zambia, so it was all definitely worth it. We may not normally chase members of the public in quite such an antagonistic stunt TV type way, but for a one-off it was interesting and we’re very grateful for the opportunity. We got ourselves a bonus country and learnt that on balance we prefer our more shambolic/charming approach.
Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t make good TV. After our radio slot we were then due to meet Mike from BBC London to do a couple of reports for the lunchtime and evening programmes. Again, this was hastily arranged and we really appreciate the fact that they featured us at all.
We were interviewed in Chinatown and hopefully did a reasonable job at explaining the idea. We also managed to persuade them to show our web and email addresses long enough so that another large clump of people got in touch after seeing us on the midday news. The reporter then said we were off to find more nationalities and encouraged the viewer to ‘come back later to see how they got on’.
Regrettably, if you did come back later to see how we got on, you wouldn’t have seen how we got on. So in case anyone’s still waiting to find out, I can now tell you categorically that we didn’t get on very well.
As expected, our hurried trawl through the centre of London caught us a fair few foreigners, nearly all of whom were tourists. And those that weren’t tourists were from countries we’d already found. We got our hopes up briefly when we found ‘The African Centre’ on Covent Garden, but even they were dashed when the one lady present (from Ghana) said they’d shut a month ago and wouldn’t be open again till next year.
Having scored zero after searching for a couple of hours, the reporter decided to call it quits and the evening piece was pulled. Oh well.
Secretly, Owen and I were both slightly relieved. We’d got a load of extra countries – most of whom we’re still trying to arrange dates with at the moment – and the word was spread to more people who might in turn find us more people. At the same time, we’ve still got enough countries left to find for us to feel like we’re still in some sort of vague control over the project. When I bought a Panini Sticker album for last year’s World Cup, I found the process less satisfactory than when I was little, partly because I now had access to a credit card. The challenge wasn’t as great so nor was the pay-off. We didn’t want the media to be our credit card this time round – just a generous cash donation from a favourite aunt, or something.
And this weekend, with a bit of luck, the Observer will also be running a piece about our search, so we could just be receiving another timely gift…