Thursday

Thursday 14/11/2002Another day of training for your correspondent. Regular readers may recall my spectacular grumpiness a few weeks back at a day of top-notch American feel-good attitude assessment and adjustment but that, like my career, is all behind me now.

Thursday 14/11/2002
Another day of training for your correspondent. Regular readers may recall my spectacular grumpiness a few weeks back at a day of top-notch American feel-good attitude assessment and adjustment but that, like my career, is all behind me now. Today's attempt to ladle some goodness into the Goodwinsian brain is very different -- media law, libel and copyright issues, presented by a venerable yet sprightly hack who's been there, done that, had the writs and come out the other side. It's fascinating, informative and dead useful. Ignoring recent conniptions in the world of digital content, most copyright law is sensible, by and large: you can use other people's stuff if you stick to the rules and don't try to rip them off, and those rules are well defined and logical. Libel law is much more of a lottery -- not the only word that came up -- and I get the sinking realisation that I've probably been engaged in an uninterrupted life of actionable defamation against the rich, powerful and humourless since I first put pinky to carriage return some twenty years ago. But I haven't been sued yet, so if I can keep going for another twenty in the same vein I'll probably be fine. Later this evening, some of the wise words of the elderly sage came back to haunt me: if you're caught in possession of confidential documents, you're in deep doo-doo, A group of us convened the traditional post-training debrief in the Pommeller's Rest, a pub on Tower Bridge that recommends itself by inexpensive real ale, plentiful plates of chips and quiz machines that reliably extract every sou of small change from the more competitive members of the team. It's getting into the PR Christmas Party season, and as the night wears on a few of our number make their excuses and leave. Some time later the stragglers are about to follow suite when we notice a coat, a carrier bag and a notebook by our feet. These obviously belong to one of the departed partygoers; we don't recognise the coat, but a freelance was in attendance so perhaps that was his. I go through the pockets, while others peer into the bag and leaf through the notebook. It may be the hour, it may be our jocular mood, but it takes a while for us to realise that these don't belong to anyone we know. The notebook contains many scribbles and diagrams apparently related to the tax affairs of large companies: the coat contains a Blackberry wireless email device with an identification tag on the back that we don't recognise. I'm poking around with this and saying "We better hand this into the bar staff," when a horrified shout comes from the region of a golfing video game a few yards away. "My goodness, chaps, what are you doing with my things?" is the gist. We look up, and there's a tall, bespectacled bloke in an expensive suit looking as if he's just spotted his grandmother being sold into slavery. "Oh, sorry, we thought these were left behind by... ah.... it's OK, we're journalists..." Wrong thing to say. Fans of nature documentaries will know the way certain squid can instantaneously change colour when placed against different backgrounds. Our new friend does an admirable imitation -- chalk, with just a hint of algae -- while his jaws open and close, twice a second, in silence. We take stock of the situation and quietly hand back coat, bag and notebook, one by one, much as the Three Wise Men laid their gifts at the manger. We make good our exit, leaving our pallid pal still masticating furiously at his invisible burger, and I'm halfway to the door when I realise I've still got his Blackberry. I go back in. "I think this is yours too. Sorry," I say as I return the last of his portable possessions. This time, the jaw hinges open and stays open: his two companions have also frozen into a tableau depicting Fear, Surprise and Utter Disbelief. Such is the catatonic depth they may easily be there yet. It's not until we're a good fifty yards clear of the pub that we too are overtaken by an oceanic emotion. To our eternal discredit, it's pure, uncontrolled hilarity.

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