It was all go at the radio station that day. Before I could leave I was accosted by a good looking girl in what can only be described as smart-casual attire. “You’re the guy from the President Apartments aren’t you?”
“Er, yes,” I said, not sure if this was leading to a joke or sympathy, or if she really didn’t know. “At least that was the plan, before I discovered they haven’t been built. I’m Luke by the way.”
My extended hand was ignored. “In which case I need you for a piece. Do you mind? I’m KJ – a veejay.” At this point she suddenly turned on the charm, turned on the tooth and cleavage. “I think it’s really important that you get a chance to tell the world what happened to you – how you came all this way only to find your accommodation hadn’t even been built. This is the really big story right now – they’ve increased the intake by 10,000 but they’ve nowhere to put them. Just lots of mad schemes that’ll never leave the architect’s notebook.”
A Veejay! The video journalists, who interrupted the station’s music output with the latest ‘news’ from campus: the price of Twixes in the Union shop has risen by a centime, or the Women’s Officer has decided to become a man. All the usual, irrelevant tittle-tattle that, frankly, should never be given priority over the latest Yeah Yeah Yeah’s single.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m happy to do an interview. I’m kicking my heels for an hour before my next lecture anyway. ”
“That’s great she said. Let’s go.”
“Go? I thought you were going to interview me.”
She looked at me as if I was mad. “Yes, I am, you just agreed to it. But I’m not going to interview you here. What would the point of that be? We’re going to the site, so that our viewers can see how badly you’ve been let down.”
“Er, okay. I suppose.”
“It’ll mean missing your lecture though,” she said as an afterthought, as we marched down the stairs. “But you’re only a first year, you don’t have to worry about passing exams or anything. A dead guy passed his first year exams last year, got a Third. We’d never have found out, but his parents wrote and complained that he should’ve got a 2:2.”
I thought about changing my mind and going to the lecture, but realised that this wasn’t actually an option. I didn’t know what it would mean to cross KJ, but I had no intention of finding out. Underneath the teeth and cleavage she displayed, when she needed to, an unmistakable ruthlessness. I was left with the distinct impression that if KJ was ever faced with a quiet news day she might just go out and stab someone, just so she could do a story about campus safety.
KJ’s car was a battered Ford Escort, colour undetermined.
KJ was armed with the only things she ever needed: her camera and tripod. During the 20 minute journey I took out my notebook and scribbled down a script. A notebook? You say, mystified. I actually prefer it. I hate the tap, tap, tap of 200 students around you all desperately rattling down the same words as they spew out of the lecturer’s mouth. A notebook makes you pause, think, take in the words and choose what to write down. Sometimes I’d go 20 minutes and write nothing, I was determined only to write anything down when the lecturer said something worth writing down. Usually it would be a book or website I should look at, a piece of music I should download. As to writing down their opinions, I’d sooner write down the views of the birds.
“Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.”
You see. Makes far more sense than any of the up their theoretical arses, pseudo Marxist dribble my lecturers come out with. Mad fuckers birds, and musically worth a thesis all to themselves.
We arrived at the patch of waste ground, now even muddier following a serious overnight rain. KJ set up her tripod, pointed the camera around the muddy ruin, before launching into her introductory tirade.
“Every day the government boasts of new investments in the future of Big City: new hospitals, new housing, new jobs. Here we see the reality, a patch of mud where a new block of student accommodation was promised. Student Luke Wasser arrived here from England, a 10 hour flight, arriving late at night. He was promised new, state of the art accommodation, this is what he found. Mud and ruin.”
It was a great speech I thought. It was, also, the introduction I had written in my notebook, that I had carelessly left unattended for 0.3 nanoseconds. I would get to know that this is KJ’s innate style and would learn never to tell her what I planned to say, do or think.
Before then I had to come up with something else to say, as the camera was pointed at me and the Independent Radio listeners were waiting.
“2,000 miles I travelled,” I said, stealing a line from the Pretenders (okay not a 100% credible, state of the moment band, but a fine tune none the less) “and I get here to find that I’m expected to sleep on rubble and mud.”
KJ grunted silent thanks and spent the next half hour filming the abandoned cut ribbon from every possible angle. The ribbon, it seems, merited as many takes as it took – I just got one.
We returned to the radio studio where KJ set to work editing the scene. There was nobody in the studio I recognised. The DJ was a short little guy, who was playing music straight from the Radio 2 playlist: Coldplay, Simply Red, Chris de Burgh, Radiohead.
Between records he walked over and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Fish,” he said.
“Hi,” I replied, “I’m Luke, the new indie guy.”
Fuck me! So this was Fish, the studio manager. No wonder he didn’t command the highest possible respect within the station, his music taste had a noticeable absence of taste. His playlists were treated as lists of songs to be avoided at all costs. At least they were by me, Carl and Kelly, and we were the ones that mattered.
“So when’s this story going out?” I asked KJ.
She looked at her watch. “About ten minutes,” she said, “news is on the hour.”
“But it’s not ready yet.” I said.
“Have you ever known me to miss a deadline?”
“I’ve only just met you.”
To be honest, I knew her well enough already to know that she’d never miss a deadline. The girl was driven and the story was quickly slashed down to a 2-minute piece for the news. I was pleased to see that my speel was shown in full, I had rather feared being edited out entirely and replaced by silent ribbon.
For those of you who haven’t worked it out for yourselves, Independent Radio was an odd station. It served two main functions. It was broadcast directly into the café in the student union one floor below and the bar on the other side of campus. These were the people who entered our competitions, using the (free) internal phones and popping up to the studio for the fabulous prizes. The shows were also recorded onto video and posted onto YouTube in their entirety. Through this medium we could sometimes dozens of people, although this mostly consisted of the DJs and their friends watching themselves.
“That’s very good KJ,” I said after the broadcast. “Have you ever thought of doing a feature about the fact that all of the students at Independent University seem to be white westerners”
She looked at me with calculating eyes. “That’s not a story. I need more.”
“Just look at the stats. Half the students here are from England, all either on scholarships or doing cheap degrees because they’ve been clegged out of the scholarly market in England. There are people here from America, every European country you’ve heard of, a few from Japan, China and the oil rich states, but just 1% are from Independent Nation. That’s a whole generation of young people missing out on opportunities, while the government courts the western elite.”
KJ gave me a dismissive gesture. “Thanks Carl. It just so happens I know all that – I thought you were suggesting a story, not giving me a lecture. Because if I wanted to attend lectures, I’m pretty sure there was a course somewhere I should be doing.”
I tried to think of the world from KJ’s viewpoint. “I have a would-be student,” I said, “a Big City resident, good grades at school, he works full time and can’t afford to go to university. He’s not eligible for the scholarships we both received because he’s not a foreigner.”
KJ failed to counter my subtle accusation about her having a scholarship. After all, why else would she be here? Why would any westerner be here, in a third world half-build alabaster tower, instead of a proper university, if it wasn’t for the freedbie education.
“I’d like to meet him,” she said. “I can do an interview and contrast his story with a spoilt, useless, thick westerner who’s sponging off the I.N. government.” She flashed me a smile. “Thank you so much for agreeing to do it.”
“Ah, fuck it,” I said. “Why not?”