National Séance Live - 31st October 2020

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

Thanks so much once again for joining us for National Séance Live. Such was the planning & build-up this year, not counting the deep sleeps that followed, that our usual next-day write-up has taken a little longer to put together.

Well, 2020 has been a challenge for most of us, to be fair. It's heartening to know that with great obstacles can come extraordinary workarounds. 

With this year also marking the tenth anniversary of the annual tweet-cast, a live event was in the early stages of being planned, as early as 2019. A live Zoom meeting was always the back-up plan, despite me not being exactly au fait with the burgeoning software...

Initially, I planned on simply using a laptop, but during initial tests, the camera didn't prove to be so reliable. Next to be attempted was a friend's trusty iPad, but following considerable headaches and a brief conversation with Zoom Support, I learned that for some reason, their iPad-specific app doesn't support live-streaming to YouTube. So, I resorted to purchasing a web-cam app for the iPad, in mind to stream through the laptop. I also dug out my old Zoom H1 microphone and hooked that up via a cradled shotgun mount. Initially, everything seemed to be working fine.

Then, just one day before the event, the paid iPad [iPaid?] web-cam app 'updated' and promptly stopped communicating with the laptop. A cold sweat began to drip from my sculpted brow down to my uncertain chin; not least of all, as by now, I'd already picked-up an aluminium iPad tripod bracket adapter, adjustable-clip iPhone cold shoe mount, universal triple cold shoe mount adapter, six aluminium cold shoes, a 52mm filter adapter holder ring which arrived without its corresponding clip, and two 5600k mini LED rechargeable mini lights. A further 2x 3.5mm spiral aux cables, which turned out not to be Triple Ring Set after all, had to be replaced at the last second by a third TRS spiral with next-day delivery, and accompanying 3.5mm [male] to dual [female] audio mic Y splitter adapter. As you do.

Ultimately, the iPad was instead used as my teleprompter for the opening blurb [hence my oh-so amateur eye-line], but only after I happened to stumble upon the fact that the iPhone Zoom app does stream to YouTube, so almost all the above planning and expense was abandoned in favour of the more streamlined set-up. Always remember Montgomery Scott's useful motto, "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain".

With less than 24 hours to test, to my additional horror, I found that when attempting to stream to YouTube on Zoom using an iPhone, my original idea to add each guest to the discussion via the Contacts menu promptly crashed the app, and ejected me from my own meeting - in turn, shifting the Host privileges to the next available participant. So, in the end, we had to go with the good old, send-me-a-link-with-passcode method, which worked far better, albeit with far less control.

It was at this moment when it dawned on me that I still required a device to keep track of Tweets, comments, and questions as they came in, live. All in, two laptops, one iPad, and two iPhones were required to make it all work just as well as it did - and despite the recent, kindly affirmations by many of my panel to the contrary, I consider it an absolute fluke that the live-stream went so smoothly, at all. Less than ten minutes in, my Zoom app did indeed crash, but thankfully, I was able to readmit myself. At the time, I also had no idea if the YouTube stream had also failed.

But enough of my techno-woes, let's discuss the event itself, which turned out to be something very special, indeed.

I truly had no idea that the incomparable, Sarah Greene herself would be joining us until just gone five o'clock on the 31st[!] Despite having been incredibly busy, even on the night, she kindly offered to spare as much time as she could to join us, for which I remain incredibly grateful.

I also cannot say enough for our next Guest of Honour, Gillian Bevan, who selflessly tested my various A/V set-ups in the run-up to the event, and was so unbelievably supportive. The awesome Mike Aiton too leant his master expertise in audio recording, to ensure his feed came though as clear as possible, despite an equally-hectic week, himself. He of course arrived on-screen, just as his character uttered the immortal line, "Right on!".

A further legend of note, Set Design Assistant for Ghostwatch, Richard Drew - who I'd interviewed for the 25th Anniversary book back in 2017, is somebody I was similarly determined be part of this year's celebrations. I was utterly thrilled when I heard that for this Hallowe'en, he had enough time in his crowded schedule to join in, as well.

Both Stephen & Lesley, I don't think I can praise much more, at this point. By now, you all know how highly I regard them, and appreciate their impossible support. Neither the event, nor this project, would have been, without them.

Singular and kind, Producer, Ruth Baumgarten was also more than happy to take part, but sadly, it seems was unable to make it to the meeting room, on the night. I'm so sorry she couldn't be a part of the event, but I'd love to arrange a special interview with her, in the future.

Conceptually, it was quite interesting to pre-visualise the event. For one reason or another, I certainly knew that I wouldn't be doing cartwheels - so the sofa it was, for me. We dressed its textured grey fabric with some cheap-- sorry, less expensive Hallowe'en paraphernalia, I think originally purchased for our table at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, a while back.

I put a box of props together, including Kim & Suzanne's Disney version of Sorry! that they are seen playing in the living room. I also made sure to dig out the prototype logo T-Shirt, replica ID Badge, Bubby III, and of course, my very own Neutrona Thrower as ably put together by Hasbro to promote Jason Reitman's upcoming Afterlife instalment, next year. I'm keeping my fingers well and truly crossed that the Proton Pack/Positron Collider isn't far behind, or that Mack's Factory's upcoming kit will be available in the UK at not too high a price point.

Just above my shirt's logo was a Sarah Greene-inspired pin given to me by Jed Shepherd, whose name you may recognise from the credits of recent, and highly-effective, Zoom-based Horror, Host. Also in prominent vision, of course, was Rob from Hidden Britain Sign Co's outstanding Foxhill Drive street sign that made all the difference to the set. It's truly a wonderful piece of work, and one that is still up on our wall, as we speak. I understand, there are only a few left, and being a Limited Edition, I would advise that you do try to pick one up sooner rather than later, as I'm sure they will sell out, in no time.

'Best laid plans' and all that jazz, but I had hoped to include graphics throughout, which on the iPad app, were so easy to select and implement. Ironically, I didn't need them particularly on the night, as the discussion came through so quick & easy. Fortunately, those few moments of dead air were compassionately filled by my guests - particularly Lesley, who came to my rescue on a number of occasions. Not much new there, then. Still, I don't think I did too bad for a first-time vlogger... if that's the word, young'uns.

To pre-empt any critical observations from Anti-Foxhillians, what perhaps didn't shine through as much as previous events was the Commentary aspect. In all honesty, I hadn't banked on just how fascinating the panel would be without much in the way of pre-empting! Beforehand, I fully expected there to be far more instances where I could sneak in a Pipes Sighting, or some such trivial factoid. Fortunately, I was able to include my most recent observations of the BBC Coat of Arms on the side of one of the Kendal Avenue Scanner Trucks, and also the Formula 1 sticker on its inner door, hinting at past adventures. My guests did the remainder of the leg work, and very grateful I am that they did too. In retrospect, either an earlier or later start-time might have worked even better, but I'm certainly not complaining.

I won't spoil much of the discussion, other than to say how glad I am that we were able to discuss the invaluable contributions made to Ghostwatch by Sir Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles, the much-missed Smithy, friend/mentor Richard Broke, and the late Keith Ferrari about whom we still know so little. It genuinely only dawned on me when Sarah asked me for an update on messages as they were coming in [such a coup for the CV], just how difficult Mike Smith's job was on Ghostwatch, and in other live TV and radio presenting. Suffice it to say, I've no intentions of giving up the day job, but it was fun to have a go.

Having kept a keen eye on the atomic clock to my side for the past two hours, around the time I realised the main feature was about to end, a new plan began to formulate in my soggy, tuna-free, brain matter. With the unfathomably supportive, and unseen, Cat sitting next to me, I slipped her phone into my grasp and began texting out-of-shot, "Can you please turn the lights off when I say? xx" In a flash, she leapt up and over to the other side of the room, resting a primed single digit on the switch's white plastic fascia. As I delivered my impromptu outro, I signalled her in a downwards motion, and the lights fell, as planned only moments ago.

Quickly reasoning that my attempts to match Sir Michael's acting abilities were about as strong as my earlier attempts to match Mike Smith's legendary presenting talents, I drew everything to a swift close, completely forgetting to thank everyone I had otherwise planned to, including enabling the planned end-plate, which hopefully will be [re-]instated as soon as YouTube finishes post-processing the video to shorten the advance place-holder logo.

Afterwards, somebody very dear to my heart referred to the evening as a fireside chat, which thrilled me, no end. So far, we have just shy of a thousand views, and around forty thumbs-up, which is fantastic. The comments from fellow Foxhillians on Twitter have been astronomically warming, and gratefully received. Huge thanks again to the Folks, and Cat, for helping me so much. Love you loads, and I couldn't have done it without you.

According to one source - over the last couple of days, #NationalSeanceLive has had 117,087 potential impressions, potentially reaching as many as 31,936 users. Meanwhile, #Ghostwatch itself made 138,806 potential impressions potentially reaching 96,164 users. Not bad! And that's not counting Hallowe'en Night itself, as that's as far back as the statistics reach.

Hope you enjoyed Hallowe'en Night, Ghostwatchers. It was a pleasure to see you all there. Whatever shall we think of, next time? The Thirtieth Anniversary is just around the corner, after all. Perhaps, Auntie shall finally consider the true value of that needlessly pushed behind her china cabinet.

... Until then, my good friends, do try not to have sleepless nights.