Apples and Pears

apple and pear

Apples & Pears

Things annoy me. I’m aware that this is as much my fault as the fault of the things. I’ve tried to be more Taoist about it but basically I run on a kind of low grade suppressed rage. Anger, resentment and frustration are by-words for motivation in my tiny, twisted mind. I need some grist to my mill.

With this in mind I’m thankful to the Daily Mail. It may be crazier than a bag full of Yeti Crabs but its on-going campaign to clickbait the known world into submission does provide ample amounts of said anger, resentment and frustration.

About four weeks ago they unleashed a piece[i] on MailOnline that claimed that ‘6 out of 10 motorists’ are failing the new roadside drugs test which were introduced in March of this year. Within the article it is also pointed out that this compares poorly to drink-driving where around 5% of roadside tests result in failure.

Mail1

The immediate reaction is surely, wow that’s pretty frightening. After all, the 2013-14 Crime Survey for England and Wales[ii] – broadly considered to be statistically sound though with limitations, after all it doesn’t survey prisoners and the homeless – found that just over a third of people (35.6%) had taken illegal drugs in their lifetime while 1 in 11 (8.8%) had taken drugs in the last year.

So what potential conclusions can we actually draw here? There are a few possibilities:

  • The crime survey is massively underestimating the level of drug use in the UK;
  • The numbers of failures is being vastly inflated by other factors such as only stopping dangerous drivers or by testing for some prescription drugs;
  • That pretty much all drug users are taking to the roads with reckless abandon;

So, are we massively under-estimating drug use? While the British Crime Survey is robust enough to have been cleared by the Office for National Statistics even they admit that the figures should sit alongside other findings to provide a comprehensive understanding of illicit drug use in England and Wales. So, perhaps.. Still, how does this compare to the research presented in the Mail?

This is the tricky part. It’s not clear exactly how the Mail came up with their numbers. They say they ‘uncovered the figures’, but how? The likely answer is that they are government released stats, research from a thinktank or a Freedom of Information Request. Alas, a little digging brought no joy. No police stats I could locate or FOI request on whatdotheyknow.com. Only this piece of research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which would be fine except that their figures don’t tally with the mail and the article came out almost a fortnight later. Still, at least the IAM have the decency to explain how they got to their figures, something the national press seem broadly happy to ignore.

It seems to me, and perhaps I’m drawing conclusions based on too flimsy a set of facts (unlike, of course my ink-barrel buying friends), that if I were to trust one of these two sets of data more than the other I might just pick the official government statistics.

Right then, perhaps the figures are skewed by other factors. It’s certainly possible that the police might be stopping people they suspect as opposed to just randomly checking motorists. While this would most likely raise the numbers it’s just not clear exactly how the tests are being administered or whether this is administration is consistent across the country.

Next: The drugalyser test also covers 8 prescription drugs and it seems no one is quite sure how much, for example, Valium or Temazepam you could take without being over the limit. Still, the Mail tells us that 80% of the failures are due to THC, the active chemical in Cannabis so let’s put that to one side as well.

It is worth noting at this point something which the Mail doesn’t mention. The level at which the government are testing for illegal and prescription drugs is much lower than the level at which they test for alcohol. A breathalyser test is failed if the driver has a blood alcohol level of 0.8%. You can get there with a couple of pints though the body metabolises alcohol at about 0.15% an hour so you might well pass after a few hour’s kip. A drugalyzer test is failed if you have certain active chemicals in your body and is set at 2 mg’s per litre of blood for cannabis, 10 mg’s for cocaine and amphetamines and so on[iii]. In plain English, if you smoked a joint in the last 24 hours, have taken coke or ecstasy in the last 5 days, or speed in the last 3, you’re going to be caught by the test.

Now, I’m not here to argue about the right and wrong of these tests – though I would point out that while research has suggested there is a problem with drug driving[iv] it seems odd to introduce this legislation without a complete review of drugs laws.  However, what I am saying is it seem disingenuous of a national newspaper to release articles which compare different things as like for like (Apples and Pears, if you will) which they then don’t support with any information about how the statistics were arrived at. Furthermore, there seems to be an increasing urge to produce controversial headlines which are not reflected in the article. Take the Mail piece again and the ‘6 in 10 claim’. Their own stats say that of 427 tests, 188 were failed. That’s around 44%, or between 4 or 5 in 10. My head hurts when I think about this.

The arrival of the Internet age has meant that news stories can wander rapidly from maybe to certainly in a very short space of time while the facts become increasingly distorted. Within days of this story it had been reiterated in both the Star[v] and Express[vi] but in slightly different ways.

star1

The Express in particular, should take a long, hard look at itself. While the piece comes up in a opinion column, which is not required to be especially even-handed, Anne Widdicombe states ‘it is revealed that 56 per cent of motorists tested have taken cannabis or cocaine.’ Hang on is that really what was said in the Daily Mail piece. Really?! There has always been a danger that news stories take on a life of their own and that along the way the original point gets warped beyond recognition but now the web is acting as a catalyst to this process which is pretty scary.

And so, finally, to my actual point. Is it not past time that we ask for our newspapers to give us a greater degree of factual accuracy than they seem to want to? Would it be beyond the pale to ask that they at least explain where their numbers come from or that the sub-editors try to rein in headlines that are not reflective of the content of their articles. After all, the Editor’s Code of Practice states that ‘the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorting information’ and must ‘clearly distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.’[vii] I’m not sure, for me, the above meets those standards and even if I was, I would still hope that the traditional print media would hold themselves to a higher standard.

After all, in age where news is everywhere it’s no longer about getting hold of it but about who you trust to give you something which is, broadly speaking, honest and trustworthy. Otherwise you may as well get all your information from crappy blogs like this one.

References

[i] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3095433/Hidden-menace-drivers-high-drugs-Six-ten-motorists-failing-new-roadside-tests.html

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335989/drug_misuse_201314.pdf

[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/drug-driving

[iv] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/drug-drivers-believe-it-is-more-acceptable-than-drink-driving-according-to-government-study-10158519.html

[v] http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/444274/Drugs-driving-UK-canabis

[vi] http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/ann-widdecombe/580195/Abi-Longfellow-NHS-MPs-pay-Twinkle-Ann-Widdecombe

[vii] https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/cop.html

 

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Join the dots

rockstar-is-playing-guitar-dot-to-dot

I look back at the memory through glasses slowly steaming over with dry ice and over-priced lager. Moments glare like bright pinpricks of sunlight through half-closed curtains. Getting down to the details I realise that someone on the same journey as I could give you a similar story but with a different melody or an unexpected twist, like a great cover song. I hope my partner in crime will try.

We start in a pub though I can’t remember its name. At first I think this is because I drank and saw too much but it turns out that it’s because it’s not important. We pick somewhere adequate to eat an adequate burger and drink an adequate pint of appropriately named ale – in this case Courage. We are given adequate customer service and the food arrives in an adequate amount of time. The jukebox is irritatingly inoffensive.

Somewhere in the maelstrom of mundanity there’s a salt-related crisis. Not only do we not have any salt but all the salt cellars appear to have disappeared from the building. The only obvious conclusion, in a place that clearly relies on consistency of its condiment delivery mechanisms, is that a passive-aggressive former customer has taken their food-related frustration on a bizarre tangent.  With an undirected thank you we’re out of the door and underway.

We weave our way uphill, bumping and grinding through the milling, irritable crowd. A cycle race has claimed the centre of town blocking the roads with flimsy looking railings. A bored sounding commentator raises guilty applause from people who briefly pause from waving impatiently at friends and lovers on the other side of the churning wheels.

The restless kerfuffle calls for a drink, the background is unimportant. The screens pronounce them as The Gorgeous Chans and we idly watch as we sup at cans that have quadrupled in price due to the close proximity of barely famous musicians. I guess they’re not bad. I find it hard to really care. The playbook is Paul Simon via Vampire Weekend. The songs blend into an anonymous whole as I find myself hypnotised by a skeletally thin horn section trying to strut its funk.

Downstairs the smell is vomit and spilt lager. It still seems a bit early for that. Dark and dingy will be the central theme of the day. Neon Waltz spill chunky riffs and kaleidoscope keyboards. A boy with a purposefully untended Beatles haircut looks like he’s supplying vocals but it’s hard to tell. Such are the vagaries of festival sound desks. Judgement is best preserved for those given a chance.

We take the first of many missteps and find ourselves trapped in a doorway for six or maybe even seven seconds of Georgie. I’m convinced they’re the best thing I’ve heard all day, possibly because they are, possibly because I’m ready for something, anything to actually be good. I make a note to check them out as we slip upstairs.

I try not to do too much research before these things. I find expectations take the edge off. Turns out that Little May is four girls – as opposed to the one I expected – from Sydney doing sultry and rocky in a more than an acceptable fashion. They could do with a little more confidence but then you try playing confidently to ten people at half two on a Sunday afternoon. I drink my beer and nod appreciatively being too old, or too sober, to dance, sway or tap a foot. At their best there are smoky vocals aligning in perfect symmetry before being broken by moments of country-tinged sunshine. Boardwalks – the first thing they ever wrote together, apparently – deserves more coverage than it’s had.

I drag my partner off to chase the hype. Jamie Lawson has more than a half a million Youtube views and looks either irked to be on at nothing o’clock in a basement or  confused as to how he got big so quick. He has a good voice and sings competent but broadly uninspiring songs stopping only to tell us he signed for Ed Sheeran’s label the other day. A joke about gingerbread men falls on rocky ground so he blesses us with his big hit: I Wasn’t Expecting That. It’s alright, though I’m distracted by the way he continually stares off to his left as if he is being stalked by a particularly insistent beer stain, so I wouldn’t go any further than that. Quick capsule review: don’t race out to get a ticket.

We poison our lungs and bedevil our livers while waiting for Sugermen. Having seen them scratch around at the edge of the stage it seems appropriate. They are all leather and badly-judged sunglasses. When they start it’s as if Oasis have decided they want to be the Libertines. Unfortunately it carries on that way, except with less technical ability. I don’t know if they’re absolutely bad or just hamstrung by their influences. Either way, they are incontrovertible proof that attitude cannot replace song-writing ability.

We time travel to Nottingham Trent Student Union. Shuffling shadows spill into youthful vigour beneath the dulcet glow of well-lit spaces and flashy interior decoration. The stage could comfortable hold two or three bands but fortunately chooses only to host the noisy, wayward excellence of Menace Beach. Perhaps it’s the sheer space, but they don’t seem like a single band. Each member is stubbornly locked in their own identity – the hippy metaller, the fashionably awkward sonic engineer, the shy, over-serious keyboardist. They are the anti-Sugarmen (or the sour men, I guess) their disparate influences pulling together into a cohesive and joyful racket. Fame and adulation probably doesn’t await them and they’re all the better for it.

In the pit it’s obvious that lots of people are in the process of positioning rather than enjoying. They don’t want to miss Fat White Family. As they arrive it’s the first time it truly feels like a festival. Impossibly numerous people spill forth from all sides determined to have a lovely time and are duly given one. What the band lack in variety they make up for in enthusiasm. The lead singer – his Jagger body naked from the waist up – hurls himself into the crowd, sweat cascading like rainfall on a summer’s day. The rhythm section twist and contort themselves forcing the pace ever upwards. Thirty minutes feels like thirty seconds and they’re gone leaving only a wall of noise and a bruised crowd. Not half bad.

The only thing we’d truly decided during the previous evening’s line-up perusal was that Jack and Eliza would be fun – and that fun was what we wanted. We find what we hope is the correct space. There’s a small stage and some vague attempts at setting up. The bar is empty aside of a couple spreading themselves across a couch in the corner so we take the opportunity to top up our alcohol levels. Something will probably happen soon but there’s no rush. Things are starting to get a little fuzzy and I find a pillar to rest my weary head against. At this stage my judgement may be a little questionable. I’m sure that’s Jack directing matters in front of the stage. I’ve never seen Jack before, either in picture or person but I’m sure. Let’s have another drink.

After about an hour of nothing happening we remember that we’re missing a music festival. There are quite a lot of options and we seem to have chosen drinking alone as our activity of preference. I realise we’ll never know if the lack of gig is our fault or the band’s. They probably played a stunning set next door.

The light is fading as we head circuitously upward. A sizeable crowd sway to Tei Shei, her ethereal vocals soaring over moody electronica. We stop for what must be a while, inexorably drawn in by her magnetism. It’s not really my thing but sometimes that doesn’t matter. I follow her lead, running an endless spiral staircase of sound, as if my brain is trying to catch up. I’ve gone from passing through to clinging on.

In the red room the walls are alive, expanding and contracting with each breath. At their heart, a perfectly tailored young man strides forth, flanked by an unlikely looking guitarist and drummer. His walk says let’s do this.

The sound resonates in the small space filling our bodies, breaking bones and shredding viscera, burning up the audience like cheap fossil fuel. Remi Miles, one foot on the monitor leans forward his voice floating above the carnage. He takes his time, looking into the eyes of every individual, bestowing safety like a benign dictator. It’s like a scene from a David Lynch movie. Maybe he’s terrible, maybe he’s a star. It doesn’t matter, there is only the moment. He leaves me sated and starving. Nothing else will do so I drag myself homeward to collapse in a cartoonish heap.

Even in retrospect, I know this was the right decision. There is much to regret in the things I didn’t see but then festivals aren’t about ticking bands off a list, taking photos to post on social media or building anecdotes to amuse to acquaintances with. They’re about losing yourself for a few hours, about being transported to another plane. You can’t bottle that. The next day it all feels like a dream.

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