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All aboard? Virtual journeys and self-reflections.

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I write other blogs but this one is intended as unashamedly about me. Or about me and writing; a pocket in which to drop research pensees, reblog through a personal filter and manage my public profile (impact is the key word in academic research). So when you boil it down, this blog is about me writing about me writing. If that sounds overly personal, dull and repetitive, then that sounds about right. Naturally, I was taught to avoid self-conscious reporting as it lacks criticality and objectivity, but writing promotes self-discovery even when it purports to review objects and events in the real world. And dull, repetition can conceal a surprise. That is why television seriality is so rewarding: the pleasure of familiarity leading to the surprise of difference.

So it was with BBC Four’s new series All Aboard! The Country Bus tonight. A compelling real time bus journey of the Northern Dalesman as it travelled across the Yorkshire Dales photographed by Flying Glass specialist cameras. The Radio Times called it slow viewing, Chiman called it reality TV. Virtual journeys are about slowly surrendering the self to the drift of spectatorial projection, the traveller at once the camera and the landscape. Even on train journeys I like to imagine myself cast out onto some unfamiliar passing scene to start a new life while leaving myself behind on the train. The screen is the enemy of this fantasy. And this programme is full of reflections: on the faces of passengers trying their hardest not to look camera-shy; in the slowing down of oncoming cars as drivers spot the cameras and wave; in the disembodied god shots where we find ourselves looking down on the bus; in the augmented reality of pop-up road signs baring historical legends (and the producers reluctance to stray too far from the BBC’s abiding mission to educate while entertaining); in the random historical recreations as ghostly mining families haunt the green dales in black and white. Self-conscious reflections. And with a turn of the head, and the light falling so on the television, I catch myself reflected in the curves of the Panasonic 44-inch screen that it is suddenly all-too-visible.

Only yesterday I was filming my own journey through the somewhat less hilly Suffolk countryside. Driving with my family. Idling. Taking snaps on my phone. Of the countryside. Catching myself unawares in the side mirror. Catching myself in an act of reflection. Here I am in that reflection, all balled up in the curves of the wing mirror taking a picture of myself taking a picture. A mise en abyme, an experience of being caught in the abyss between two screens. In my hand what looks to be a blood-soaked handkerchief is no such thing. God knows what it is. An omen of ill health? A reflection of some out-of-view object that’s redness jumped into my abyss? All I know is that I was not bleeding or wiping blood and yet here is proof otherwise. How do you argue with your own self reflection?

Slowly. Laboriously. If a blog is like a journey, it surely is a wing mirror that takes us by surprise. So I hope. Else what’s the point of a journey? What’s the use of looking?

All Aboard! The Country Bus. BBC Four. 20.00 – 22.00. Aug 29th 2016.






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