Coales' Notes: Stranger than fiction: Gordon Coales fears he may have found a new way of getting the Wormwood Festival off to a blaze of publicity

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The Independent Culture
WEDNESDAY What a place this city has become. I went round the offices of the Herald this afternoon, to drop some Festival information off on Dave Curley. I found him glued to a television, watching a most sickening video called Burnt Alive] I said I was sorry to find he had sunk to this. But he asked if I had not seen today's paper. It was the big crime story on Page 1:

'A city man last night was the victim of a horrific fire attack in Hills Lane. Several witnesses saw the man, who has not been identified, being set on fire by a mystery assailant as he left 'The Offy' off-licence. 'It was horrific,' one said.

'The man's attacker then ran off into the night. One bystander, a student doing a video course at the County University, filmed the burning man. Meanwhile, others went to his aid and quickly extinguished the flames. The victim himself disappeared also, apparently unhurt. 'He just disappeared,' said one. Police are anxious to contact . . .'

Curley put his nasty on pause. He said: 'Now what do you think of that? There's got to be a link. Got to be. And the point is, if we can establish a link, which I very much hope, then I will be able to argue that this is not a crime story, but an arts story.' I expressed some scepticism about all this linking of TV and violence. And, anyway, the presence of a student led me to suspect that the whole thing was a stunt.

Curley replied: 'Personally, I'm surprised the other arts aren't trying to jump on the video bandwagon. 'Ballet Rambert made me kill.' It's the only way to get taken seriously.'

I mentioned that my friend Archie Ogg had once shot five sets of lights in Oxford Street, after a performance of Die Meistersinger at Covent Garden, though admittedly traffic offences didn't amount to much. But it could have been serious. He said: 'Well, that's it. 'Wagner-Road-Death.' My point exactly.' Apparently, they're putting the student's video on the local news.

THURSDAY I had an excited call from Curley this afternoon. He said: 'Right, Gordon. I've got the story. And I've got the man.' He asked me to come round to the paper. When I arrived, he showed me part of the piece he was working on.

'. . . Ted Lewis, who describes himself as 'viewing a good 18 to 20 hours of television a day, on average', admits that he is still coming to terms with the attack.

'Said Ted: 'Now that it has been brought to my attention, I do of course vividly recall the episode. I suppose that, without thinking, I must have popped out to stock up on beer, which I do occasionally. But at the time, as far as I was concerned, the whole thing was taking place on the television. This proves what I have always maintained, that I am totally unable to distinguish between television and - quotes - reality.'

'Telly-addict Ted went on: 'In retrospect, I do remember thinking that a fire attack was a surprising development in the programme I was in the middle of - but then, that is not so uncommon nowadays. It was only when I saw the video on the local news programme the following evening that my suspicions were aroused, because they would be very unlikely to repeat an item of that nature so soon afterwards. It was then I noticed the charring. God knows who could have wanted to do this. I know nobody.'

'But, concludes the square- eyed fire-victim, the moral is clear: 'Stay in front of your television set, and you will remain unharmed. I will think very carefully before venturing away from it in future. Particularly since, while I am grateful to the student for videoing me, there must be the fear that his film will now inspire copy-cat incidents.' '

Curley suggested that, for the Festival, we might make this man the central figure of a community play.