Accidental Activist

Monkey and a Shrub

Monkey and a Shrub: Guerrilla Gardeners in a Manchester Protest in 2007. Photo borrowed from the BBC News Website.

Last week I wrote about my intention to create a secret garden somewhere in Manchester city centre. Guerrilla Gardening certainly isn’t new but I’m a newbie at it. In my blog I mentioned NQG: Northern Quarter Greening group who have been guerrilla gardening throughout the city centre all year. They are true Guerrilla Gardeners: Many mornings I woke up to find an empty patch of land was suddenly filled with bedding plants to liven up my walk to work. I intend to join them, if they’ll have me.

I published the article on Saturday. Two days later I received an email that should have thrilled me: BBC Radio Manchester had been in touch to invite me to be interviewed on air about taking part in International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I’m a wallflower. I like to stay in the background and never take centre stage. If you read this piece you’ll know how painfully shy I was growing up and how it took years to crawl out of my shell. They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. I don’t want it.

ABJECT TERROR

The few people I told about the interview were ecstatic. They went beyond enthusiasm and excitement; they were bouncing off the walls with delight. I on the other hand felt abject terror. The more people delighted in telling me what a fantastic opportunity it was the more I felt myself withdrawing into my shell. I felt sick. I was shaking. The idea of speaking on the radio absolutely petrified me. I have never ever wanted to speak on the radio. I knew it was a privilege to be asked, but as for actually doing it – Not in this lifetime.

DECISION TIME

The fear lingered for hours. My colleagues wouldn’t let the subject drop. Whenever I managed to put it out of my mind for a while someone would bring it up again. I kept telling them “No chance. I’m not doing it. Nothing you can say will talk me into it” and then I thought about my Day Zero List.

Number 83: Agree to do something I really don’t want to do. Being interviewed live on the radio is something I really, really, REALLY did not want to do.

So I agreed to do it.

Beswick at BreakfastI tentatively emailed the producer. My hands were probably shaking as I typed. I enquired what they expected from the interview and whether it would be live or [fingers crossed] recorded so if I screwed it up we could start again.

The next day I received an email giving me a get out of jail free card; the producer told me it would be live (Sorry!) and that their reporter Kevin would take good care of me. Or, if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.

WAITING

Sometimes the anticipation is the worst part. Every day this week I have had an internal debate over whether to go through with it or whether to pull out. I could feel panic rising within me whenever I thought about it. I had already agreed and didn’t want to let anyone down so I knew I wouldn’t pull out, but knowing that I could and life would go on was comforting.

I needed this week. If on Monday they had asked could we interview on Tuesday I couldn’t have done it. I needed this week to calm my nerves and convince myself it would be OK. It didn’t help that I felt like a fraud: The NQG group have worked hard all year and here I was, a newbie, coming in and stealing their thunder.

ILLEGAL

It didn’t help that guerrilla gardening is illegal either. Was I really going to publicly announce my plan to engage in an illegal activity? It’s hard to imagine being prosecuted for having civic pride and wanting to improve the look and feel of your neighbourhood but it could happen.

THE DAY BEFORE

Yesterday I still didn’t know whether it was on or not. I had suggested a time and a place for the interview but there had been no solid confirmation. Was I relieved that I might not have to do it? Hmm, I was unsure. For days I had been brainwashing myself into thinking I could do it. Did I feel cheated at loosing the opportunity? Yes, relieved but cheated.

My challenge was to ‘agree to do’ something I really didn’t want to do. I had ‘agreed’ to do it. Would the fact I didn’t actually do it mean that it wouldn’t count? It’s hard to imagine another such opportunity which would make me recoil in fear, as per the challenge, short of a TV interview that is.

At about 2 pm my phone rang. It was Kevin, a BBC journalist, my interviewer. Challenge 83 was back on track.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Last night I met Lou’s book group in Matt and Phreds. It was my first visit since the smoking ban was introduced. It was much brighter than I remember, but as I discovered Thursday night is salsa lesson night, so the lights were on. I’d been expecting darkness and jazz.

Before I arrived Dave informed the group of my impending live humiliation. I struggled to drink just 2 bottles of beer or to eat the delicious pizzas. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but was the deal: Buy 2 bottles of beer get 2 bottles of beer plus 2 pizzas free? What a bargain! I’ll go there again!) What I really needed was an alcohol free early night.

SHOWTIME!

I was woken up at 2.30 am and again at 5 am, after which I couldn’t get back to sleep. Feeling groggy and sick with nerves I found I had developed a cough in the night. It was as though my body was fighting me every step of the way telling me to pull out; cancel; abort.

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

At 8.30 am I met Kevin at a secret location. We chatted about a lot of things on the run up to the live slot – mainly to calm my nerves. We talked about Manchester Meanders and about being shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards. (Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I really appreciate it!) We talked about Manchester’s events and the Day Zero Project. We talked a lot about Guerrilla Gardening, after all that’s why we were there.

We ran through the procedure of the interview: Kevin told me how he planned to introduce the piece and the type of questions he was going to ask. We had 3 or 4 ‘dress rehearsals’ so I wouldn’t be frozen with terror and revert to nodding silently when it was time to speak on air.

Nerves came in waves. Whenever Kevin needed to adjust the microphone or test the equipment, or when he listened to voices in his headphones, I felt the butterflies taking flight. I hopped from one leg to the other and took slow deep breaths.

When Kevin started his introduction for the final time (It’s going out live!) I had to make a conscience effort to ignore the microphone and look at Kevin: Look at Kevin; Talk to Kevin; Ignore everything else. Just as it started a man walked past less than a metre from us. [Ignore him Sammy! Ignore him!]

At 8:59 am it was all over. I wasn’t traumatised. My voice didn’t shake ludicrously as I expected it would. I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself, I don’t think.

We didn’t cover the ground we’d planned to cover. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we talked about International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day (this Sunday) which was the whole point of the interview. I think I mentioned NQG and The Secret Garden but I’m not sure.

From the initial email we expected the interview to last 10 minutes but during our ‘rehearsals’ the slot was pushed back by 5 minutes, cutting the interview time in half. Kevin expected it to last 3 minutes. The studio overran slightly and as they had to play a jingle at a specific time exactly the final interview probably only lasted about 2 minutes. We might even have been cut off at the end. I have no idea what I did or didn’t say in that time.

The interview is available online but I haven’t listened to it.

I’m not sure if I want to.

I’m going to give you the link now but you have to promise to be kind. OK?

The interview was on Beswick at Breakfast on 07/10/2011. Our interview was right at the end of the show.

As I accidentally became an activist for guerrilla gardening please show your support by planting tulips this Sunday for International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day!

Challenge 83: TICK!

All comments are welcome. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Accidental Activist

      • You don’t have to listen to the whole thing but you can, I just spaced through in fifteen minute chunks until I heard you then skipped back. It was good, If I was to be critical I’d moan at you for not mentioning your blog/MBA but they can always search for Sammy Dee and they would get focused search results. You said everything else you wanted to say, you seemed to know your subject and I could hear you trowling away in the background burying your tulips. A success, tick that baby off the list!

        • In the emails they said they would talk about the blog but on the day Kevin said it wasn’t relevant – Even though they had found me through the blog.

          If it had lasted the full 10 minutes I might have been able to squeeze it in there.

  1. Good for you. Anytning that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

    I’ve been interviewed on TV a few times . . . and I’ve made the mistake of watching the interview after the fact. ACK!

    Fortune is fine. Fame I can do without. 😀

    • “Fortune is fine. Fame I can do without” – Me too! If only I would win the lottery 🙂

      Being interviewed on TV would have been so much worse. Were you ok with it, until you watched it back that is?

      I’ve seen myself on TV a few times – Not being interviewed – Just in the background (and once as centre stage being serenaded live on air).
      Luckily they didn’t pick up what I was saying. I try to avoid the cameras at all costs but it doesn’t always work out.

  2. Oh Sammy – I read this entire blog with a thumping heart, you have articulated so beautifully exactly how I felt about being on stage last week. Isn’t it wonderful, feeling the fear and doing it anyway? OK, so I have to admit, i didn’t love the being on stage bit last week, the nerves were far too present for that, but I know I can do it now, and will love every other time i do it. As i was reading this, I found my fingers crossed ‘please let her have done it, please let her have done it’ … and i inwardly cheered when you did … i’d like to say I’m proud of you, but that might be a bit weird since i don’t know you … but that’s kind of what i felt 🙂

    Oh, and PS … No, if the interview had have been cancelled, just agreeing to do something wouldn’t have meant you could, in good conscience, have crossed off number 83!!

    Off for a listen now 🙂

  3. Pingback: Finding Manchester | Manchester Meanders

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