#DrummondPuddleWatch: An Oral History of the World's Most Famous Puddle
Over a month later, what is the legacy of one social media's defining moments?
Illustrations by Dan Evans
Before the puddle, there was only the grey misery of January. After the puddle, there was shell shock and scorn. But for one brief moment – for one brief, six-to-eight hour window – the Drummond Puddle defined the month it occurred in: the Drummond Puddle was the light shining in all of our lives. As the rain came down and the wind whipped into us from the sea, we all stopped, at our desks and on our commutes, faces turned to the screen in delirious white-blue bliss, watching a load of Geordies frolic around in a shallow puddle. For one perfect moment, the Drummond Puddle was everything. For one perfect moment, the Drummond Puddle was all of us.
The 6th of January, 2016. That was when half a million people discovered what Periscope was. Through this app, streamed live, we watched as hapless weatherbeaten strangers attempted to traverse a difficult puddle across the entrance to a bridge in Jesmond, Newcastle. And then something else happened: as the viewership peaked, boomed viral and busted to nothing at astonishing light speed, students turned up, people with surfboards and lilos, Domino's pizza delivery boys, journalists. An impromptu party atmosphere broke out as the light faded out of the day. And all of us watching had the same exact reaction: Ah, that's ruined it now. That's ruined that. The innocence of the puddle is corrupt.
There was a curious sense of ownership about the puddle: from the 100-odd people in the Periscope chatroom to the mute viewers at home to the man on the lilo who splashed around in it for a selfie. We watched as a woman in a mustard jacket stormed through with nothing but seething disregard for the puddle. Jeered at cyclists. Laughed at the girls in box-fresh Nikes. The puddle was the January weather made crystalline, a visual metaphor, a live-feed of people falling over our favourite conversational topic. And it happened in one perfect moment of time: a dreary Wednesday on the first week back in the office after new year. A day or a week either way and nobody would've cared about the Drummond Puddle. But the 6th of January, 2016? There could be no better time.
But what of the people involved in the Drummond Puddle? What of the people at creative agency Drummond Central who set the live-feed up? What of Anthony Kane, a man dubbed the "pink lilo cunt"? What of Tom Ough, journalist, a man sent to write a story about a puddle? What of the chatroom collective that built up around the puddle? What of the characters and the memories? What was the exact Domino's pizza order delivered to a puddle? What? Who? How?
Through a series of incredible conversations, reader, I found out.
AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE DRUMMOND PUDDLE
Journalism trainee, Periscope chatroom member #300.
Managing Director, Drummond Central.
Senior Designer, Drummond Central, who said the immortal line "look at that, he's got his ringpiece out" when someone mooned in the puddle.
Newcastle Chronicle journalist sent to document and report on the puddle.
Radio producer, first man to take a selfie in the puddle.
PR, Newcastle City Council.
Head of Digital, Domino's PR.
Content Strategy, Periscope.
Developer, retriever of the wet floor sign.
Dr Alex Niven
English Literature professor, Newcastle University; north-east documentarian.
The Woman Who Sold a Bottle of Drummond Puddle Water On eBay, who declined our many requests for comment.
Niall Griffiths, trainee journalist, Periscope chatroom member #300, voice of the people: I was on lunch break and I saw my colleague retweeted it, then I went into the chat room thing and saw about 100 to 200 people in there, but I just stayed on there in the background while I was doing work. I can assure you I was working. I just kept on in the background while that was going on.
Beth Hazon, Managing Director, Drummond Central: Yeah, the puddle is there all the time. But the weather has been very crappy in the North East, so over November and December we had a lot of rain and that puddle has been there a lot of the time. Our creative floor looks over the puddle, so it's something that we would have regular conversations around – watching people navigate their way around it, through it. There is a guy – one of our copywriters, Steve Wilks – who had the idea to live-stream it when he was on the bus. He came in and had a conversation with one of our social media managers – a guy called Richard Rippon – on how we could stream it, because then we could do our work but also watch it at the same time, because we are all split on different floors. So the live-stream started as just a very practical suggestion for our own amusement.
Kev Lynn, Drummond Central Head of Design, unofficial puddle commentator: We've got a double window, so you have to lift the first window to get to the second one, so we put a phone there. But then it wouldn't stick, so we had to Blu-Tack it in many places. It was a bit of a botch job, like, but it managed to stay there all day. That was about it: we didn't realise that we were being recorded at first, and then we did. Then Beth was upstairs saying, "You're being recorded, watch you don't swear!"
Beth: It was only up for about six hours in total – it went up mid-morning and we were all watching, and then we were totally stoked when it got to like 100 views.
Nick Sallon, Content Strategy at Periscope: Over half a million people watched #DrummondPuddleWatch on Periscope (547,828 live viewers, 24,263 replay viewers). There were around 100,000 tweets relating to the puddle in the 48 hours that followed alone.
Kev: We were hoping that it would get 200, but then it actually went viral, and we were just running around, clapping our hands.
Niall: I showed everyone in my office when I saw the retweet – we have two separate offices, so I showed everyone in both, then we were all on it. I believe only the first 100 can talk in the chat room so they don't allow anyone above that watching to chat, so I was lucky I was in that first 100. They expanded it later – or people dropped out, I don't know – and I did see a friend from back home on it. But I was the only one from work in there.
Anthony Kane, radio producer, famously took a selfie of himself on a lilo in the puddle: We were sitting in the office and it was so addictive, and pretty much the whole sales team had stopped working and were sitting watching it on one Mac. I just thought, 'I really want to be there, this is so frustrating.' I just felt like I had to do something, not with work but just to be there. We needed to be at the puddle. At that time it was only like 5,000 people, so it felt like it was just between us lot, but we were checking our phones as we were driving down and it got to like 20k and we started freaking out that all the people were gonna be watching us when we got there. We didn't wanna make ourselves look like a pleb.
"WE NEEDED TO BE AT THE PUDDLE."
Tom Ough, Newcastle Chronicle journalist, leading puddle reporter: I became aware of Puddle Watch at some point over lunchtime. I wasn't the first to spot it by any means, but pretty soon everyone had taken a look.
Tom: I was working on something else when my editor came over to tell me he had a job for me. It was Puddle Watch. Naturally I was delighted. It was my first week of my placement on the paper and I knew it was time to win my spurs.
Beth: Me, personally, I like the person in the mustard jacket who went around the side, thought about it for a while, and then went around the lamppost.
Kev: There was a little old man who stormed through puddle, didn't look at anyone, wasn't bothered he was soaking. He just stormed right through.
Tom: I had a soft spot for the cyclists who would stop for neither man nor puddle and sailed on through.
Niall: There was this one guy who saw the puddle in the distance and didn't even break stride – he just went for it. His mate tried to follow suit but didn't do it as well. But yeah, it was graceful and a thing to behold.
Anthony: I don't know whether it was because they'd heard of it or seen it or whatever, but some people were just, like, charging through it. They were so aggressive, like, "THIS ISNT STOPPING ME." And I respect those people because they made me look like an absolute fool.
Niall: I do remember there was a wet floor sign placed there at one point and that guy had a great reach – just great form shown there.
Chris Kemper, Drummond Central developer, retrieved the wet floor sign from the puddle: The sign is indeed ours, and is currently – and was before its time in the spotlight – chilling with the blue roll in the cleaning cupboard. The person responsible for the sign being there in the first place was Phil Cole [also at Drummond Central], who had the idea to put it there, and who then actually went and did it.
Tom: I enjoyed the tale of the woman with a pram who marched across as if the puddle weren't there, pram and all. And there was a quite sweet episode in which a guy got his shoes wet to help a girl across the muddy bank. Somewhere out there is Newcastle's answer to Francis Drake.
Chris: In terms of good techniques, I always admired those that jumped over it. I got sent out for coffee while it was quiet, so I had to cross the puddle and opted for the push-off-the-wall technique, so that served me well going over. I thought I was going to have a big issue coming back with my hands full of coffee, but I managed to clear it with minimal spillage, so that was good!
Alex Niven, Newcastle University academic, puddle scholar: Yeah, I just walked right into it. As I remember, I walked passed this guy – there's usually a homeless guy reading a sort of crime thriller; I don't know if he's there all the time, but he's usually under the tunnel just out of shot – and saw the puddle, and then, very clumsily with my cerebral academic head on – some might say pretentious – I very clumsily clung to the lamp-post and attempted to jump over the mud on the upper end of the puddle.
Chris: The best ones were always the ones who thought going via the wall was the easiest option, because they'd end up lowering themselves (and in most cases, their very clean trainers) onto the mud, and having to then work out how to traverse muddy grass.
Alex: I'd got my cheap Sainsbury's boots and they were quite muddy for the rest of the day. But as I say, I'm not too fussy about footwear.
Kev: The best had to be the two girls who went right, then left, then right, then left again, then they came over – but one had a bright white pair of Nike Cortez on, so her friend who was first through the puddle put her homework down over the muddy part so her friend could walk over without the Cortez being damaged...
Chris: There was one person who actually tried going the other way, but not only that, put paper down first to walk on that. When she tried the first step, the paper moved instantly, and I was hoping we'd see a fall, but sadly it didn't happen. It just took so long for her to cross via the paper. I was on the edge of my seat watching. I just wanted to see a fall.
Niall: There was two girls with surfboards as well, but they weren't as funny.
Kev: ... but she got wet and filthy anyway. I think that was the moment that got us howling. That was when it went from 300 viewers to 2,000 in a matter of minutes.
Anthony: I thought it was gonna be deeper and was severely disappointed how shallow it was. So when I saw people hop, skip and jumping around it was a bit of a let down, because I expected to glide over it like a swan on my lilo. When I got on it all there was was a big splash and I got all wet.
Alex: It wasn't your usual lilo material, but it was definitely too deep to walk through. That's the crucial thing.
Tom: I managed to clear it with a running jump over the shortest breadth of the puddle, which was about 1.5 metres. It was about three metres wide, and – I'm sorry to report – not much more than two inches deep.
Alex: People weren't just exaggerating, though: [the puddle] was a genuine problem, an obstacle. It wasn't one of those you could have walked through in sturdy footwear. You had to go over it or go round it.
Anthony: If you were wearing shoes it probably wasn't even ankle deep. Nowhere near enough to keep a 13 stone lad afloat on top of a lilo.
Niall: When did the puddle jump the shark? Probably when two lads jumped the puddle, and then they jumped it again, then two or three more times. I think they cottoned on to the social media presence it had, and then they looked up to where the camera was set. I think that's when it lost it's magic.
Beth: I would say when Domino's arrived.
Tom: The puddle had easily jumped the shark by the time a couple of Domino's pizza guys turned up to hand out free slices.
Nick Dutch, Domino's Head of Digital PR: We ordered 3x pepperoni passions to the puddle.
Kev: When people started looking up and seeing what phone the window was in [is when it got rubbish]. It went from one person taking a selfie next to a pool of water to people bringing lilos and pizza.
Anthony Kane, pink lilo cunt: Yeah, people called me the "pink lilo cunt", actually.
Nick Dutch: We rang the franchisee in the area and said, "Hey, this might sound a bit stupid, but in case you didn't know there is a puddle in your town that people are watching." Fortunately the guy in that town was game and willing to get one of his drivers out there to deliver.
Beth: It was really interesting because we are all in the building looking out, thinking, 'No, get off our puddle!'
Nick: We managed to see the pizza delivered live as well, which was exceptionally exciting.
Niall: I wasn't too bothered, really, but the point it turned was when I saw people interviewed there taking pictures, and I just thought, 'This has lost it.'
Anthony: When I was heading down I thought it was a bit of fun, so I jumped in, no bother, but then I saw that advertisements started using the pink lilo picture for holidays, like, "Don't be in the puddle, blah blah blah," and I think Coral Bet had something. It started snowballing into this massive thing.
Tom: Probably [what really killed it] was the point at which traditional media rocked up. Sorry everyone. That's observer's paradox for you, I guess.
Anthony: I had companies asking me to go down to the puddle and hold this sign for them, and I was like, "Nah, I'm done with this now," so it got a little weird. Then people got angry, because people ruined it with their childish lilos and surfboards.
Anthony: I didn't wanna be hovering around too long, so we just kind of watched from the car, then later we saw the surfboard and I thought, 'You've had your moment.' That's when my phone went mad with people saying "whose this prick with the pink lilo, he's ruined the puddle, the puddle was magic until he ruined it blah blah blah" so that kind of took over for the rest of the day.
Beth: At about quarter past five we made the decision to cut off the live feed, and it was a conscious decision: we all discussed it as an agency. It had to end; it was getting to a point where it was just getting a bit ridiculous and we wanted to end it because all good things must come to an end—
Kez: —and we didn't want to totally milk it.
Beth: Yeah. We all had a good time, but it had to come to an end at one point because: it was a puddle.
"IT HAD TO COME TO AN END AT ONE POINT BECAUSE: IT WAS A PUDDLE."
Anthony: [If I didn't have my lilo] I think it would've been the run up and jump method. Because if you see the sides, the concrete side gave you the biggest risk of falling in the muddiest part of the puddle, but then the other side was muddier as well. So you had to just go for it. Jump over.
Nick Dutch, Domino's: How would I jump the puddle? Well, how much time do I have to prepare? I would probably ask someone with wellies on if they minded giving me a piggyback over the puddle in exchange for a pizza.
Niall Griffiths: If I could emulate that last guy's attempt I would, but probably don't have the grace and power to attempt it. Probably wouldn't go for the novelty: I'd probably debate going no nonsense and trudging through it. I dunno. I've had to deal with many puddles in my life, but if I knew people were watching maybe I'd showboat a bit, but probably just grace and power over it.
Anthony: At first it was just interesting to watch people jump out of the way...
Alex: Yes, I suppose there is this sense that in a post-modern, post-religious world that people look for big symbolic focal points – that somehow you can kind of congregate around and use as a sort of vessel for yearnings and ideas and hopes and dreams in the way that religion or nationalism might have provided in the past.
Anthony: ... but then it became hypnotising to watch and it transfixed us, like: we couldn't close our laptops and had it on our phones so we didn't miss anything. Not that there was going to be anything to miss. At the same time people are reporting flooding in Carlsile and stuff like that and then there's just this puddle and people are like, "Wheeeey, get a lilo in that!" I think that was the appeal.
Alex: Having said that, I think this was a truly empty signifier. It's difficult to read politics or sociological context into it: it didn't conform to this stereotyping of things which you get with programmes like Geordie Shore. You can see a media portrayal of the north-east with a Cheryl Fernandez–Versini or a Gazza, but the puddle seemed to transcend those sort of condescending narratives between the metropolitan centre and the backward periphery. It transcended those sorts of stereotypes and arguably was sort of a cross-class puddle: without genre and race, and without nationhood. It had that universalist aspect to it; some might say utopian – a very roughish kind of utopia, a very British one. A particular kind of kitchen sink northern utopia.
Niall: Was it a Monday? [It was a Wednesday] Yeah, it was a grim Monday, a lot of people were on lunch breaks, and I dunno: I think it was the simple pleasure of watching people without them knowing you're watching them – that simple feeling of being a voyeur. It was a pretty interesting examination of people trying to solve this massive puddle, and how they got around it. And obviously it was a slow Monday – a slow news day – for me at least. A drizzly Monday morning, and it was just one of those social media ways to pass a Monday. [Again: it was a Wednesday]
Tom: The live-stream hit some kind of spectating sweet spot, being easy to get the hang of and too compelling to switch off; it managed to tap into our miserable rain-soaked January 2016 zeitgeist. Plus, we were probably due a viral live-stream, since Periscope has been around for a few months now.
"I JUST THINK HUMANS ARE INTERESTED IN WATCHING OVER HUMANS"
Anthony: I'd love to think it goes down a little bit in Newcastle history. But the council: not so much, they hated it. They sent parking wardens down to ticket people who were coming to look at the puddle, they were full on brutal with it.
Newcastle City Council spokesperson: There is no truth in the rumour about parking wardens.
Anthony: Obviously they drained it, which was emotional, but yeah. They had wardens ticketing people in the car park, so they made their money out of the puddle as well.
Newcastle City Council spokesperson: Two operatives from our structural engineering contractor were assigned to check the nearby subway following the heavy weather. They were completely unaware of its celebrity status. Under normal circumstances we would all be very grateful to them for their initiative and helpfulness.
Tom: The social media manager of the office that broadcast the feed told me it said something about "plucky British resilience". I guess that's true if plucky British resilience is refusing to get on with your boring desk job because you don't want to miss the sight of someone getting soaked.
Beth: I think the timing was perfect: it was the first week of January and everyone was back to work. I also think there is something about the shared experience – there was something quite profound about the mundanity of it all. Something so simple about it, and it's a very, very British thing to do. All of those things together.
Kev: What we used to do if we were looking at the puddle and having a tea break would be to shout, "Ah, did you see that!" when someone fell over or slipped, but people would always come running through and miss it. So when we started streaming it, everyone could watch: so, for me, that was the appeal. It was the people's struggle. You had people with long legs who could jump it, shorter people were scaling Everest to get past it – everyone had their method, a way over. We could make a film about it.
Beth: I just think humans are interested in watching other humans.
Kev: I've got a streak in us; I wanted someone to fall in. I was desperate. I would have been upset for them, but during that time when they were falling and splashing I would have enjoyed myself.
Tom: It was the right puddle at the right time.
Joe Zadeh, NOISEY editor and VICE's resident Geordie, January 6th 2016, internal Google Chat message to Joel Golby, VICE Staff Writer and puddle enthusiast: Spend my life convincing people there is more to Newcastle culture than Brown Ale, teen pregnancies and horse punching... then a Geordie streams a puddle.