Saturday, May 1, 2010

All This for just a Link to 84, Charing Cross Road

Well now. I'm stumped. The idea seemed simple enough: having set up my little video camera on a table, I thought I'd see just how much, if any of our recent reading of Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road I might be able to record. Didn't think I'd get the whole thing, but I did, even up to and including all the milling around after, a nice long shot of the back of a former co worker's coat that went on for some three full minutes, and, when I finally came to take the camera down and tucked it, still running, under my arm to talk to the very nice woman who's coordinated the whole event for us, a rather long and intimate record of the front of her blouse, shall we say? while I dithered on about nothing, until I finally noticed that the camera's little red light was still lit. (This last footage, despite being the likeliest thing to draw the attention of a new and very different audience to our little effort, I have already suppressed.) When I got the camera home, I plugged it into the computer and put the whole thing up to be tinkered with, thinking all the time that I might be able to post what I had, perhaps in two parts, here.

I've been posting very short videos here for some time now; mostly of me reading aloud from an old armchair, reading mostly verse, and with the gratifying notice of a few friends. I'd never attempted more than that before, at least not for posting, and I must confess that even these rather slight efforts have already cost me quite a few hours of embarrassed labor, as even so simple a thing as posting a two or three minute recording has proved, even after doing more than a dozen of them, just within my technological skill-set. Not the computer's fault, obviously. Modern computers, at least the ones from my entirely reliable manufacturer, would seem almost to have been designed for even just such an idiot as me to operate successfully. and yet... Anyway, I've done it before, that's the point.

Now having discovered that I did indeed record the entire reading, I assumed there would be some way to post the whole hour, if not quickly or completely, then surely slowly and in parts. This in mind, I divided it first in half, which didn't work, and then in quarters, again without success, before finally noticing the little warning that had by then, for more than two hours, been telling me that nothing longer than ten minutes was acceptable. Back I went again. Since the narrative form of Hanff's little book, conveniently enough, is epistolary, coming to the end of a letter near the end of my allotted time provided me, if not with entirely satisfactory breaks in the story -- some letters and replies would certainly have made more sense together than in separate videos -- then at least with the necessary pauses. So, painstakingly, and with some regret that the quality of neither the picture nor the sound proved to be specially clear, I did just manage, that first night, to post the introduction and the first few minutes of our reading, though only online and not here, as I'd always intended.

Walking into work the next day, I was gratified to have a coworker who had been unable to attend the event, tell me that she's enjoyed the first video. She was even so kind as to ask me when she might expect to see the rest. Much motivated by her enthusiasm, I determined to have the lot up and running by the end of the weekend.

I realize that this comes too late, but to make a long story short, I have finally managed to post the whole reading online. I needn't try anyone's patience with further details of all my bumblings in so doing. Suffice it to say, my thumbs touched buttons they were meant to avoid, I mislabelled at least one segment of the six -- number four in fact -- and couldn't figure out a way to fix that, posted somethings twice and other things only after unwittingly selecting the "private" setting I never meant to use, and just generally muffed the thing so thoroughly that it is only now that I am able to direct anyone still interested to the results on Youtube, should anyone want to see our reading of 84, Charing Cross Road, in part or whole.

The better part of tonight I actually spent trying to transfer these clips into this space, with even less luck than I had posting them online in the first place. It seems that as difficult as I made things for myself in getting the reading online, I've somehow made it simply impossible to put anything of it here but the link.

I should like to be able to blame all of my frustration with this process on the governing principles of the Internet, which would seem to be guided by the evidently widely held belief that no experience of modern life need really go on for more than nine minutes and roughly forty-eight seconds before becoming in some way untenable, presumably because that is either the absolute extreme of the capacity of of the kind of technology available to the entirely amateur participant in this great new cultural exchange, or because research of some kind has shown that after about nine minutes, no one might reasonably still be expected to listen. The truth however, or rather the blame, I should think, lies elsewhere, and there could be no better proof of that than the sorry sight of unwashed me tonight, stamping my little hoof in frustration after watching a little wheel turn in the corner of my screen for better than a hour only to be told that my "upload" had again "failed." Had there been some more competent party involved, some person under thirty, with a better understanding of just how all the little elves turn all their little gears inside this box, or for that matter, how the others of their kind capture and record the little pictures in my camera, this whole project might have been done days ago, been better made in every way, and up and running right here.

Alas, this is not the case. I am the only one here. And so, this will have to do.

Now that I've bellyached at such length about my sweating efforts, I can't quite imagine that anyone who has read this far will still be much interested in watching the damned thing, but please, don't let my grouching discourage you. Even with the technical limitations and my own disgruntlement still very much in the air tonight, I must say, I am still inordinately pleased with what we were able to do on the night of, and with the very warm reception our efforts received from a surprisingly large and enthusiastic audience.

And really, as our prime motivation in mounting the reading in the first place was to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Helen Hanff's book, and to pay tribute to her and to the booksellers she memorialized, I am still glad to be able to share, however imperfectly, something of the magic of that night, and 84, Charing Cross Road with the friends far and wide who were unable to attend.

So, go on then. Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain. Doesn't matter. Enjoy the celebration, and lift a glass of something, as I am right now, to Helene Hanff and the good booksellers at Marks & Co., 84, Charing Cross Road, London, W. C. 2, England, of blessed memory!

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