Office chair set on fire - news that made the world sit up . . .
The Times apologises to readers for failing to report an earth-shattering event in Cumbria last month. Some ne’er-do-well set fire to a chair. We were distracted by lesser events in Iraq and Afghanistan. But when the Westmorland Gazette, the Kendal-based local weekly, posted the story on its website the fate of a piece of office furniture reverberated around the world from New York to Australia. Better late than never, we hereby reproduce the report that drew a record number of comments to the website of an assiduous journal that keeps a hawk-like eye on its patch.
“An office chair was destroyed after it was set on fire on the grassy area off Maude Street, Kendal, this afternoon. Fire crews from Kendal attended along with police. A spokesman for the fire and rescue service said: ‘A delinquent set fire to an office chair in the middle of a grassy area and it was extinguished using one hose jet’.”
That’s it. Nothing else. No one hurt, no questions asked in Parliament, and no ministers’ heads on the block. George W. didn’t threaten to invade the Lake District. But one of the most insignificant events ever to be reported in the Gazette suddenly took wing.
First came the pity. “This really is scraping the barrel. You’ve got to feel sorry for the journalist who wrote it though. I suppose everybody’s got to start somewhere,” said the first response on the website. Disdain was rife. “I think it’s high time the Westmorland Gazette had something newsworthy to print: perhaps a drowned shopping trolley, or a discarded mint cake,” wrote another.
After the comments began to mount into the dozens and tongues became embedded in cheeks Andrew Daniels, the young reporter who happened upon the drama during the daily newsroom drudgery of calls to the local police, posted his own spirited reply. “It takes years of experience to generate so much interest in what at first seemed an innocuous story.”
Freed from the gravitational pull of pity, the story took off on a spaceflight to distant galaxies of imagination.
“The chair knew the risks. Gang warfare in Kendal is rife, and when you choose a side you gotta be down with risks. This was a declaration by the Standard Lamp Posse of Kendal. No one messes with lamps,” said a Lancaster respondent.
“If your Government continues to hold our agents of freedom illegally in detention camps, other chairs will meet the same fate as this one.” That from an Islamic-sounding respondent in Ireland. Several messages questioned the chair’s legal right to be in the country at all and suggested it needed a work permit. One respondent thought that the Gazettehad missed the real angle of the story: setting fire to an office chair was a contribution to global warming.
Staff at the Gazette are delighted that the dross of local news has provoked a global running joke. “This is not the most crime-ridden or busiest of areas, and it’s difficult to get much material from calls to the police and fire brigade,” Mike Glover, the editor and publisher, said. “We took the the attitude that local news sells local newspapers. People will have wondered what the fire brigade were doing.”
Every story needs a follow-up, and the burning issue prevails: what has happened to the chair’s charred remains?
"This story has upset me so much i don’t think i’m going to be able to sleep tonight — i work with office chairs very closely on a daily basis and they've always treated me well and to hear stories like this makes me sick to my stomach", Ben Thomas, Dubai
“Another tale of moral decline from our already debauched society. Ergonomic disasters of this magnitude were last seen during the fall of Rome", Adam Candle, Lancaster
“These chairs come here from foreign places and think they can take our bottoms", Laurent Blanc
“The relatives of the chair are claiming it was “friendly fire” and are asking the US Air Force to release their cockpit video evidence", Brian Newbold, Doncaster
“This type of atrocity has only been able to happen since the “Chair In The Community” legislation was passed in the late 1980s. Before that time chairs would have been cared for indoors, not forced to walk the streets", Legislation Required, Westminster
“Was there a racial element to this unprovoked attack? Did this chair have the right to work in this country or was it an illegal immigrant? I think there needs to be some sort of investigation into the wider implications of this attack", Whatever, Cheshire
“(To the tune of the Gilbert O'Sullivan song Claire) Chair. The moment I met you, I swear. I felt as if something, somewhere, had happened to me, which I couldn't see. And then, the moment I met you, again. I knew in my heart that we were friends. It had to be so, it couldn't be no", Gilbert O’Sullivan, Hollywood