I became a playwright at 1.30 pm on the 6th of December 2010. That was the moment that the fear hit. When every emotion that is contained within the repressed trauma of a catastrophic childhood, came crashing over me in the middle of a business meeting. This wasn’t normal fear, but the kind of fear that turns the whole world into the back of a spoon. This was dissasociated fear. I Apart from knowing that something desperately wrong had happened, I had no idea what was happening to me.
What do you do in a situation like that? When you have a small 4 year old son, a mortgage, a loving wife, and you are right in the middle of all the good things in life and this really shouldn’t be happening, and no matter what you try to do to stop the feelings of terror, they keep happening. What you do is that you reach out to those that your trust. You try and grab on to something real. You tell no one at work because you have to keep your job, and because of that every single project you are working on falls apart and gets taken away. A month ago you were so competent. But now?
Now. Every lunch-time, you leave your desk and you run to the British Museum. You sit down with a sketchpad to try and draw. You haven’t drawn in years bit you do it anyway. You reach out to humanity, thousands of years of humanity and you draw and you reach out.
And in the middle of the night, when the museum is shut, and you are in the dark and your wife is asleep and you are terrified of everything. What do you do? What do you do with the rage of incomprehension? You reach out. You reach for your phone. Your face glows. You are a terrified 38 year old glow dad. And you look at forum after forum trying to find a story of someone else who has been through what you have been through and survived. Because what I haven’t said, is that after 6 months of continuous terror I no longer wanted to live.
You might remember his face. His name is Police Constable David Rathband and at 11pm on the 3rd of July 2010 he was parked on a drop kerb at a roundabout on the A69 Standfordham Rd on the outskirts of Newcastle. He parked there because he was on the look out for this man.
Roaul Moat has been released from Prison two days previously and was hunting policemen with a shotgun. He was convinced that his girlfriend, who he’ broken up within Prison, was going out with a Policeman.
Hello there, this is the gunman from Birtley last night. What I'm phoning about is, is to tell you exactly why I have done what I have done, right? Now, my girlfriend has been having an affair behind my back with one of your officers. The karate instructor that I shot last night, right, now I... Yous bastards have been on to me, right, for years. Yous have hassled us, harassed us, yous just won't leave us alone. I went straight six years ago when I met her and I have tried my best to have a normal life and you just won't let up. Yous won't leave us alone for five minutes. I can't walk down the street without the blue lights flashing. Yous have stitched us up for years.
The two men had met once before. But on this night Raoul doesn’t know that. Moat crawls on his hands and knees until he is at the door of his police car. Then he stands up. Raoul shoots twice in the face, the force of the blast forces PC David Rathband into the footwell and he begins the short journey to what he thinks is his death. Suddenly in his mind’s eye he sees his son. He reaches out. From somewhere he gets the strength to click on his police radio and say he has been shot.
This portrait was taken a year after the shooting. You can see it is a face that has been through a lot.
His journey back to life had been very difficult. He spent 13 days in hospital and had numerous operations. They were not able to save his sight.
The eyes that David is pointing to are brand new. Like a babies. He is still getting used to them.
When I first clicked on the link, I didn’t know any of this. This is what I heard.
I’m struggling to deal with being blind. I can deal with being shot. It’s happened. I can’t change that. I’m struggling.
It is the voice of a man, who is bewildered by his experience of life. A man having to learn everything again at the age of 43. It was something that I could hold onto.
About this time I found a psychotherapist. An attachment based psychotherapist. A man to whom I will always be grateful. Each time I went he would say we were building a boat at sea. I couldn’t see the other shore yet. He just told me that there was one and I kept going back. Slowly I began to conceive of another life. Not a new life. Just another one.
It was David’s honesty that I took hold of. It seemed like a material from which I could build a boat. His absolute openness with his experience. He became a national celebrity. The news cycle moved on. So he shared everything. He made his personal world public. He became internet famous. He founded a charity to help others who had been criminally injured. He did the great north run with a guide. He did the London marathon with a guide. He inspired others to raise money too. To abseil down buildings, to play football matches.
@davidRathband. 3016 Tweets. 319 Following. 11042 Followers. Sad to announce Mrs R has called time on our marriage. Separation permanent.
Sad to announce Mrs R has called time on our marriage. Separation permanent.
@KathRathband. 2754 Tweets. 605 Following. 1228 followers. Slight inaccuracy in the tweet by @pcdavidrathband – He left us and refuses to come home. #TheTruthWillOut
My own treatment was very slow and difficult. Sleep was a massive problem. Sometimes I would have to wake up my wife simply to hold me. Totally private conversations between husband and wife. Things I couldn’t share on Twitter.
I had to leave my job. I wasn’t the man I used to be. I had no idea what to do, so I decided to hide in a university like this. It was a place to retreat, re-integrate and re-invent. I got into being in a library. I signed up for a course. I got into it, I forgot about PC David Rathband until Feb 2012. When it was announced from every tabloid across the land. Police Hero David Rathband, a blinded policeman had taken his own life. I don’t think that anyone who knew him privately was much surprised. Certainly the people who followed him on Twitter were not. He had been sharing his feelings about his trip back to the UK from visiting his twin brother Darren.
Back to the land of Twitter and few more on the list let me down. No surprises there. Had good day all Dark.
A busy day another 40 pieces of shrapnel removed from my face another six hours of work however it’s getting better.
Another few hours removing pieces of shit from my face. 58 today
A meeting with social services on Thursday something to look forward to. I wonder if I’ll get a painted doorstep.
Mrs R said no to getting back. Disaster. So job lost, eyes lost, family lost, wife and marriage lost, what a year.
I was shocked. David’s recovery, was also my recovery, it was the recovery of men in trouble everywhere. Men going through all kind of life shocks. I decided that I wanted to write a play about PC David Rathband. I had no idea where to start, so I started with the most public thing I could find. The Tweets, and from there I worked back. I felt like a crash investigator. I wanted to know why he had taken his own life, if I could do that I could help my own. And if I couldn’t understand then at least I could honour him. We all leave a kind of digital vapour trail these days. For some they become blackbox flight recorders.
I started to curate the fragments, lay them out in a huge metaphorical hanger. I soon realised that it wasn’t just David and me some middle age bloke here. The things I was understanding were about all of us. The momentus changes we are going through with our technology and social media. The story I had chosen to write, was filled with the collective electricity of the questions we are asking as a society. What are these social networks? How much can I trust them? How much should we share? What happens if I reach out to it? What happens if I make a mistake? As a playwright, I try and find descriptions and metaphors and put them into the mouths of characters. I do this to help an audience find the words and fit the feelings for the time we are living in. I am not interested in pictures of a lit up part of a brain. To me a picture of a brain seems exaggerate the importance of what is being said, as a trust marker. I am interested in the words that can help describe something, so that I can turn it into a narrative. A story that can be learnt from.
Everybody in the PC David Rathband story makes mistakes in how they use technology to communicate. From the police, cocking up press conferences and making the Raoul man hunt more dangerous, to Facebook trying to defend it’s free speech attitude to David leaving his wife. In 2010 we were all learning about social media. For example, a quick search using Twitter’s advanced search tools shows conversations between David and other celebrities that I assume they thought were private. David’s account is now deleted, but many people used @PCDavidRathband in the middle of their tweet to him, or used ‘#PCDavidRathband’ and so the conversations are public. The conversations were very moving and they remain there forever.
I realised that if I could tell this story well. If I could freeze this moment in our collective momentum, then I might say something important, something helpful.
What do you want to happen with your digital legacy when you die? Do you want to be deleted or do you want to be memorialised. It is a story that is getting bigger, because it is a mathematical certainty that at some point in the 21st century there will be more dead people on Facebook than living. Do you want to be memorialised or deleted? It’s like asking if you want to be cremated or buried. What do you prefer?
The more I delved, the more I ignored the ethics of what I was doing, the more I realised that the story also marked an important moment for us as nation. Whenever you mention that PC David Rathband and Raoul Moat story, another names comes up very quickly.
For those that don’t know who Gazza is, he one of our National Treasures, a man of sublime footballing skills. A man in trouble. A man in AA recovery. The moment is remembered because he arrived at the end game of the siege of Rothbury. The police has spent 7 days tracking Raoul Moat and finally he was by a riverbank with a shotgun pointed at his head. Gazza arrived with some beer and chicken. And that was the moment when Twitter exploded in the UK.
PRESENTER: (STUDIO CONFUSION) Gazza? Gazza? Gazza? Gazza? Gazza?
“Hello!” Good evening – you are live on Real Radio. I just wonder... Tell us about Raoul Moat. The Raoul Moat that you know.”
GAZZA: Raoul Moat, er Raoul, I knew him years ago. He used to be a bouncer in Newcastle. I knew him a lot of years since I was a young kid, when I played for Newcastle. He was a gentleman – someone must have wound him up or done summat, right. And all of a sudden I just listened to the radio right, I mean on TV news. Obviously he’s killed someone and he’s shot two. Right?
Doesn’t matter. He’s killed someone. Which is not nice, really. Obviously he must have been on drugs, um, and he’s shot two people, right. Now I’ve heard on the news
Gazza’s trending, shit. Gazza’s trending! It was the moment when the man in the pub knew more about what was going on in the world than the man on the telly. It was the moment we all became newsreaders. Where fame went from the stars to the people. So when the news that Paul Gasgoine had arrived at the siege of Rothbury. everybody is like – yeah we know Gazza!
I think that it is ironic, that Gazza was the only person to turn up at the siege without a camera or a gun. He wanted to speak to man to man. The moment when Britain changed from a technology point of view a very human moment indeed.
Do you know how long information remains active and engaged within a timeline? About 18 minutes. Facebook will use it’s Edgerank algorithms to try and keep your fragments working for you longer. Twitter is more like a waterfall. That’s fast. That is a momentum that is dizzying and like staring over the edge of the waterfall, we can’t take it for too long without getting the urge to jump.
Celebrities announce that they are leaving their partners on Twitter. They issue statements to their fans. In fact the technology companies probably paid thousands to early celebrity adopters to endorse their product. But it wasn’t so much that they were teaching us how to use the technology, they were teaching us to be celebrities. How to feel comfortable with sharing the minutiae of our lives. There are still millions of people who feel uncomfortable with sharing. Not just an older generation perhaps, people who rightly or wrongly don’t want people knowing about them.
They resist what is the greatest unspoken story in society. Namely the collapse of public and private. From the ubiquity of pornography, to the panama papers, to oversharing on social media. It is a massive contraction of psychic space. They world is getting smaller. It is as if we have moved from six degrees of separation to six centimetres of separation, which is the space separating our friends news feed with our trending feed of world events. It is a kind of social gravity which leads to a narcissistic black hole. It is also a collapse in the meaning of words like love and like. In French facebook there is no difference between Love and Like, it is simply J’aime. But there is a massive difference between liking something and loving something. Think of a relationship where you were applauded for everything that you did. The whole time, a gigantic round of applause that never ends. The round of applause would soon feel weired and then absurd. That is the difference between love and like.
Six centimeters of separation.... it is having other impacts too. I believe that a problem sharedis a problem multiplied when it comes to our online lives. People are coming online, not to share their lunch, but to share their fear. People now post to regulate their feelings. Are other people feeling this too? What do you do with the friend, who shares pictures of children chests heaving to breathe after a Syrian gas attack, and then shares pictures of their daughter’s birthday party. The boundary between the two is blurred. I tell you what I do. I prune my connections. Gone are the days where we try and reconnect with as many friends as we can. Come are the days, where we try and manage the momentum. There is so much information that we are voting off what we don’t like. That person is making me feel anxious by what they are sharing. I do not want to know. Vote them off. Vote them off. It used to be that we changed channel to show our displeasure. Now we block...but remain friends... It is an act of control, when the timeline is out of control.
I sometimes ask myself. What is the worst thing that I have seen online? A woman shitting in a supermarket aisle? People jumping from the Twin Towers. A beheading? Each of us will have something that makes us feel dizzy when we think about it. Something frightened us and made us feel isolated, that we felt ashamed of knowing about, that for a momentturned us into a fragment of separation. That took us a centimetre further away from our friends. I say this because I want to show you PC David Rathbands’ final Tweets. Just wanted to give you the chance to leave if you felt that it was in invasion of privacy. But I have never seen anyone leave a TED talk. You are all strapped in!
If you want to stay, then we will experience them all together. We will experience something traumatic together. And it won’t turn us into fragments, it won’t isolate us. It won’t put us at the edge of our own private screen. It has the potential to remind us of our collective humanity. Theatre is an old technology. It has a role in the digital age. Theatre is old and ancient and above all wise. An amazingly strong vessel that can contain all our digital fragments.
DAVID: It takes more energy to remain a victim and less energy to become a survivor. Why do people choose to be a victim
DAVID: 1am. Rely on the very few it saves the disappointment when you’re let down by so many.
DAVID: Well it’s time to sleep my loyal friend Temezepam is staying with me ZZZZZ said no phone calls today perhaps tomorrow.
DAVID: To @Kathrathband Thank you for your correspondence this weekend, you’ve kept my spirits so high with your compelling compassion.
DAVID: Doesn’t take much to write a funny email how so many people lose the ability to communicate.
DAVID: To promise is an offer of integrity to break a promise is the lowest form of selfishness.
DAVID: Back to the land of Twitter and few more on the list let me down. No surprises there. Had good day all Dark.
DAVID: A busy day another 40 pieces of shrapnel removed from my face another six hours of work however it’s getting better.
DAVID: Another few hours removing pieces of shit from my face. 58 today
DAVID: Mrs R said no to getting back. Disaster. So job lost, eyes lost, family lost, wife and marriage lost, what a year.
@DANGER SCOUSE: Things will change between you and your family in time, you just have to wait a bit, trust me. Enjoy your barbeque. :o)
@MET2MOZ David, please talk to someone close to you. You're feeling like you're at the bottom right now but I know you can spring back.
@MET2MOZ @davidrathband my heart goes out to you. My other half was disabled through the Job. He too lost his wife who left him while in rehab. Now he's got me!
DAVID: Siri Dictate: Feb 24th5.10pm RIP PC Rathband.
@MET2MOZ:@davidrathband there's something I know David. Your numbers not up yet. You have many many people who care for you. Granted we can't replace the past.
@PHILJ_BAKER: @davidrathband u desperately need help to get through this David. Don't try alone, theres people who can help. U can do it my friend! Phil.
DAVID:Siri Dictate: Feb 25th I have behaved terribly towards my wife since I got shot and she has done all that she can to support me.
@DAVIDCOX:No one knows how you feel being thru what u have its bound to change a person it have angry moments and do the wrong thing!!
DAVID:Siri Dictate: Very emotional few days, but back on track. Now focusing on my trip back to the UK and the road ahead.
MET2MOZ: @davidrathband if you need some Rand R you can always come out here to the beach. Northern Mozambique is different beers cold suns warm.
DAVID: Siri Dictate: Thank you for your positive comments. I am trying my best. Sometimes I get it wrong. Sorry.
Trauma fragments the mind. Experiencing something communallyhelps puts it back together. That’s what I learnt to tell this story. I believe that the momentum of our online lives is to some extent traumatic. It’s like what our greta great grandparents would have felt moving into the big cities for the first time. The lights, the neon, the car’s the Jazz. The thousands of fast moving fragments. Modernism. Theatre created Vaudeville from all ofthat. Entertainment that was both fragmented and held together bya theatre. I think that modern theatre needs stories that try and do something similar.
A couple of weeks ago, Facebook asked me if I wanted to celebrate friends day with them. They made me a video of all my fragments from the previous year of my time. Here it is.
I saw it as a celebration, and I saw the dance, and I saw the person, and I thought. Yeah we’re trying to work out who we are online. We’re trying to put the fragments back together to make meaning. So I leave you with this question. Does it change you? Does it help you make meaning. Can you do better.