A conversation with Louis Barfe

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“In those days there was a tree right outside my block and there was a tradition to cover it in toilet paper. Every so often you would come out and the tree was covered in lavvy paper,” said Louis Barfe when thinking about his time in Fylde College. “I noticed in a recent edition of SCAN there was a ‘10 ways to save money’ feature and one of the suggestions was regarding lavatory paper. Nobody bought loo roll – if you lived off campus you came on with an empty rucksack and took a few rolls back with you.”

During his talk at Assembly For Change, Barfe revealed himself to be many things – crusading journalist (he has contributed to numerous publications including Private Eye and The New Statesman); cultural supremo; hoarder of objects (an apparently necessary side-occupation for any journalist); and of course ex-SCAN Editor to name just a few. However, from SCAN’s conversation with Barfe, one thing remains clear – that whatever the Lancaster alumnus does, he always seems to be enjoying himself immensely. Even when asked about the more unsavoury aspects of journalism, Barfe replied: “I’m quite a perverse creature. I do enjoy winding people up and alienating people.”

A Fylde College student of the 1992-5 (and then SCAN Editor 1995-6), Barfe spent most of his time invested in the Lancaster media, not only for SCAN but also Bailrigg FM, or URB (University Radio Bailrigg) as it was called then. “I was in Fylde and I’m not your typical Fylde-y; I’m not particularly sporty or anything. So pretty much all my friends came from the Union and the radio. I had mates in my college and in my block, but I wasn’t really part of my college in the way some people are.

“Also, all of my drinking took place north-Spine really, in what was then Cartmel Bar but is now County Bar. I had a lot of mates up in Cartmel – particularly in final year – so that was my drinking haunt.”

Back in the early 1990s, Cartmel College could still be found near the north of campus, where County South is now. It was not the only change that took place over the past twenty years. Barfe particularly remembers the technology of the time; he only knew one person who owned a computer, with himself only getting an email address in his final year. Mobile phones were also scarce.

“I did a thing in SCAN, in which I said ‘I’ve just seen a student with a mobile phone – he must be the campus heroin dealer,’” Barfe told SCAN. “Now, of course, everyone’s got a mobile phone but there is no signal.”

The campus media has also been through a series of changes since Barfe left the helm of SCAN. “[At the time] Bailrigg FM was still in Fylde – where the off-campus room is now – rather than in Furness [where it is today]. We had two studios – Alan and Bob (or A and B) – named after Alan Freeman and Bob Harris. Lots of us claimed the credit for that name. Success has many parents; failure is an orphan.”

Bailrigg FM also still broadcast in medium wave, rather than on FM like it does today (let alone online). “The first time we broadcast on FM was in 1994, when we did it for 28 days at a time. We got permanent FM in 1995 or 1996,” Barfe said.  “Of course, no bugger on campus was listening.”

SCAN’s office, meanwhile, appeared to be determined by an elaborate game of musical chairs. “When I first arrived here the old SCAN office [then part of LUSU’s office] overlooked the underpass. So you would be in there, see your bus come and you would be down in the underpass by the time it had stopped,” Barfe said. In 1993, SCAN’s loffice moved down the corridor to be overlooking Alexandra Square beneath Bowland Tower, before moving again in 1995 to Slaidburn House. “I ended up in a room with no windows,” Barfe told SCAN. Plus ça change.

Barfe remembers the atmosphere at Lancaster while he was a student being a lively one politically, with quite a lot of anti-University sentiment. As a student journalist, it was an atmosphere in which he thrived, even when it came to criticising his own colleagues in LUSU. In one particular incident, Barfe published an unkind article of then-LUSU President Liz Matthews. Matthews was so outraged that the Womens’ Officer rounded up all of the copies of SCAN she could find and dumped them in Lancaster canal. “[Criticising the Union] was easy. I lost friends daily, but they all came back when they wanted to stick it to someone else,” Barfe said. “This is one of the great things about journalism – people hate it when it’s about them, but they love watching you slag other people off.”

The political situation at Lancaster did have its quirks, however. “Politically it was interesting because I was a member of Labour Club, but I was censured in Labour Club for living with a Tory. There was a motion of censure [against me] for sharing a house with a Tory.”

Above all, it is perhaps most interesting to note where a lot of the students involved in the student media at that time have now ended up. Barfe’s contemporaries include Niall Couper: fellow Assembly for Change speaker, former SCAN News Editor and current Head of Media and PR at Amnesty UK. Another contemporary of Barfe’s is former Bailrigg FM station manager Paul Dale. “Paul Dale is now incredibly powerful in German television. He’s now at ProSieben in Germany,” Barfe said. “I would love to go and meet all of his colleagues and tell them ‘your boss once chased me round Fylde with a fire extinguisher.’

“Oh no, actually I chased him. He had set the fire extinguisher off, and it was in my block and I was chasing after him shouting ‘come back Dale you bastard!’”

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