Stephen McGinty: Saying a farewell to dignity

David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama pose for a photo. Picture: AFP/Getty
David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama pose for a photo. Picture: AFP/Getty
Share this article
Have your say

Stephen McGinty says he finds taking a selfie isn’t as easy as it looks and even when done correctly can result in some unintended and unfortunate results

I do not take ‘selfies’. This is not because I am ashamed of my debonair good looks and strong rugged chin or lack the rock hard guns best displayed in a bathroom mirror, but because I cannot adequately work my mobile phone.

This week when I tried to take a “selfie” of myself, duh obviously, and my dear lady wife, I first held it up with the lens facing me so that I had to try and reach around then fumble blindly for the button. This was immediately mocked as there is, apparently, a button that swivels the camera setting allowing one to view oneself as in a mirror allowing one to perfect the most pleasing pose. I couldn’t find said button.

If anyone is both familiar with the HTC (let me have a look, I think its the Wildfire but it does say “beats audio” in small print at the back if that’s of any help) and an accomplished self portraitist then perhaps they could send me instructions.

As I failed to find the magic button that would appear to swivel the camera lens from front to back (I think, actually, there may be two camera lenses, but don’t quote me on that) I had no choice but to hold the phone up facing both of us and stab randomly and blindly till the flash went off. As a consequence I now have a lasting record of my 15th wedding anniversary.

Unfortunately, instead of my wife looking as beautiful as the day I tricked her down the aisle and myself, older and, one hopes, wiser, the pair of us sitting in the aubergine velvet seats of The Fumoir bar in Claridge’s, I had taken a photograph of what appears to be half of two fingers cast adrift into the void of space.

I had planned to tweet this picture today but I’ve just realised I haven’t found a way to link my pics to Twitter as I can’t remember the password. (I could, of course, take another photograph of the photograph on my HTC mobile phone using my iPad and then Tweet that which I appreciate is just one step more advanced than having a monk copy out the image into an illuminated manuscript and then have peasants on donkeys hand-deliver it to anyone with an interest.)

The experience on Thursday afternoon taught me two valuable lessons. 1) I am a lucky man with an understanding wife. 2) That if opportunity seated me at a memorial service between Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America, and David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, I would be technologically incapable of exploiting the situation to the degree found quite acceptable by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark.

There would be no once-in-a-lifetime selfie of me sandwiched between two giant political titans with which to decorate my Twitter account or Facebook page (if I ever got round to setting one up). Instead after a few false starts and technological fumbles I’d have to apologise and say that we’ll do it some other time.

The photograph of Thorning-Schmidt taking a selfie with Obama and Cameron requires careful deconstruction. So what do we know? Well, one that Thorning-Schmidt is clearly in capable control of her mobile phone and that memorial services have a different tone in South Africa.

While a memorial service is in a slightly different category from a funeral, where the deceased is actually present, the trio’s engagement with cutting-edge social media did warrant them inclusion in the Tumblr site “selfiesatfunerals” set up in August by Jason Feifer who was slightly agog to discover that, yes, indeed young people who lack an appreciation of the gravity of the situation had indeed taken to posting selfies from funerals.

Among his fine collection of images is the girl who tweeted a picture of herself with the following text: “Love my hair today. Hate why I’m dressed up. #Funeral.”

Another girl posted a selfie with a text: “funeral dress from today. Goodbye great uncle John, may you rest in peace. We will never forget you.”

She, however, was topped by the young lad whose friend did us all a service by re-tweeting his image with the text: “My friend took a selfie at a funeral and didn’t realise his dead grandma was in the background. I can’t breathe.” And yes, indeed, you can see in the background, under a stained glass window, an open casket and, well, his granny.

Thorning-Schmidt has yet to post her selfie but might I suggest as an accompanying text: “Love my hair and new BFs #Obama #Cameron. Hate why we’re here. Farewell Madiba. #Longwalk.”

The fact that taking a selfie at a funeral had gone from a gobsmacking breach of etiquette practised only by the young and ignorantly insensitive to an, apparently, acceptable part of political protocol had, at a stroke, rendered the site obsolete.

As the founder posted on Wednesday before retiring: “Obama has taken a funeral selfie. Our work here is done. Thank you and goodnight.”

It’s the official government photographers I feel sorry for, no more will they be required to corral rival egos on to the steps of a suitably dull government building, instead we’ll just wait for our politicians to cozy up to their friends and post the results.

The photograph did prompt another question: did Thorning-Schmidt get a selfie with Robert Mugabe? It strikes me that might be more of a collector’s item.

Am I alone in being mildly embarrassed on behalf of the United Kingdom that our Prime Minister would be corralled into participation in such an undignified event?

Also, why did Thorning-Schmidt need the photo as a souvenir? Couldn’t she just ask her husband to record CNN for four hours and then fast-forward and snip out all the bits in which she’s glimpsed?

And no sooner is Cameron back from Johannesburg after “selfie-gate” than he’s managed to attract the ire of a judge who has told the jury in the trial of Nigella Lawson’s two PAs to disregard the Prime Minister’s statements regarding the domestic goddess.

In an interview with The Spectator, the Prime Minister was asked if he was on Team Nigella. Now, it would indeed be surprising if he announced that he was on Team Saatchi, for while Saatchi’s advertising agency did provide loyal service to the Tory Party, even the Tories might baulk at throttling one’s wife in public – even a faux throttle – but the wisest course of action would be to point out that as there was an ongoing trial it would be inappropriate to show favour to anyone involved in the proceedings. But no, the Prime Minister declared that he was indeed a member of Team Nigella. “I am. I’m a massive fan. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting her a couple of times and she always strikes me as a very funny and warm person. Nancy (his nine-year-old daughter) and I sometimes watch a bit of Nigella on telly. Not in court, I hasten to add.”

Now, like many important, seasoned journalists I’ve spent time with Cameron discussing great matters of state and I can attest to the fact that since I saw him last he’s grown increasingly casual and liable to such social faux pas. When we spent six minutes together at McGhee’s family bakers in Springburn discussing the noble biscuit, he was quick witted and nimble of foot (figuratively speaking, that is, he did actually trip up on arrival).

Gordon Brown had attracted opprobrium for appearing on Mumsnet but refusing to disclose to them his favourite biscuit or dessert. Cameron had no such reserve, the cupboards of his kitchen were flung open for all to see, and when I asked the killer question of what he reached for to accompany a cup of tea he was savvy enough not to declare that he “loved French tarts” and plumped instead for the humble oatcake adding: “and I’m not just saying that because I’m in Scotland.” Then he was focused and crucially aware that even the slightest mistake or misinterpretation could scupper his chances of election.

Today as Prime Minister, Cameron has adopted the faux intimacy championed by “Call me Tony” Blair and is so chillaxed as to tell a female MP to “calm down dear,” participate in a selfie at a “funeral” and tell a jury whom he favours. This will not do. Please, let us have a prompt return to decorum but as I ponder my distant interrogation of Cameron, I do appear to have been part of the problem.