BBC BLOGS - Anne Diamond's Blog

Archives for October 2010

The curse of being first!

Anne Diamond | 13:00 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

TV puppet Roland rat in his car

It's the curse of breakfast TV - never be the first in a new format.

As the presenter, you get the blame as well as the credit. So when viewers react badly to innovation or change - which they inevitably do (especially when the predecessor programme was fairly popular) - you become branded with the word "failure".

Breakfast TV in Britain was David Frost's idea - but in 1983 he was pipped to the post by BBC Breakfast Time, which launched just a month earlier as a deliberate spoiler. (I know - I was in on it. My ex was senior producer of the very first show, and I was auditioned for the Selina Scott job, and offered the role of newsreader which ultimately went to Debbie Rix.)

But Breakfast Time, hosted By Selina and Frank Bough, though in hindsight a great show, was branded "Yawn Chorus" by the press, who were hostile to the whole idea of breakfast TV. They, of course, preferred the great British public to read newspapers over their cornflakes.

So the first ever was branded a dud.

Then along came the first ITV breakfast show, David Frost's creation, TVam, which launched to the overwhelming derision of the press and public - despite the most celebrated names in the business, including Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, Michael Parkinson and David himself.

No-one liked it. The viewers switched off in their zillions. Another first time dud.
Only when Greg Dyke (from LWT) masterminded a rescue package comprising Nick Owen, myself, and a certain rat, did the tide start to turn, and we grew 100,000 viewers a week.

When TVam ended, it was the most profitable TV station in Britain and we regularly had an audience reach of 14 million.

Then GMTV took over as the new independent company charged with a new look. They called it the "F" factor with presenters Fiona Armstrong and Michael Wilson. I was never quite sure what "F" stood for. But, sadly, it quickly stood for "flop". Fiona left within weeks and Michael moved away to become a very successful financial and business reporter.

So GMTV's first effort was a dismal damp squib.

Now the curse of being first has struck again. "Daybreak", the first breakfast show to come from the ITV channel should be working, but isn't. Viewing figures are sinking. Currently, presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley are suffering the ignominy of delivering the lowest ratings since David Frost's Famous Five! But is it their fault? Is it that ITV no longer understands its audience? Or is it just the curse of being first?

My wonderful old boss, Bruce Gyngell, used to say that it wasn't just about famous names, personality, chemistry or even production - all obviously important.
Sometimes it's about familiarity. Give a show long enough to catch on, as long as you listen to the feedback, it will find an audience.

So, though Adrian and Christine must be seriously thinking about throwing in the towel, and their agents will be panicking about their future careers, I'd say hang on in there. Play for time. Because a breakfast show takes years to grow, and while it's harrowing now, it's so exciting to feel an audience grow with you. You could end up, as we did, with a massive and loyal audience who'll never forget you!

But if the chaps at ITV are really worried, I have Roland Rat's private telephone number somewhere.....

Get a life, Cherie!

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Anne Diamond | 12:45 UK time, Thursday, 28 October 2010

Grand Piano

I nearly bought three grand pianos one late night whilst surfing on a particularly well-known internet auction site. This illustrates the very real danger of the combination of a couple of glasses of wine, late night shopping, a credit card and the all-too-accessible internet shopfront. It was the eve of my fiftieth birthday and I was determined to buy myself the sort of birthday pressie I'd always wanted. What I didn't understand was how these auction sites worked - I was a total novice and didn't realise that a bid is binding.

When my eldest son came downstairs at about 2am and asked why on earth I was still up and about, he was shocked to find what I'd done.

"Tomorrow morning you could be the owner of three grand pianos!" he spluttered. "Where on earth are you going to put them?

I was lucky. Two of the pianos went to other bidders. Thank goodness. The one I did buy was wonderful - and is my little treasure.

But surfing such sites is almost addictive - once you allow yourself in. It's like being a kid in a sweetie shop with an inexhaustible supply of pocket money. Yes, you can get bargains and sell your own unwanted junk - but you have to spend hours monitoring sales, you must have the time to sneak in on an auction at the last minute. They call it "sniping" and it's very time and effort consuming! I did it for a couple of months and then decided to get a life!

So I wonder why Cherie Blair allegedly spends so much time on that site, buying and selling trivia and even, it's said, unwanted gifts!

Perhaps she has too many evenings alone in front of the computer, with a credit card and a glass of wine. In my limited experience, that's what gives ladies of a certain age the internet bug!!!!

It's astonishing what you can stumble across!

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Anne Diamond | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 27 October 2010

toilet roll on a window sill

There I was in my living room last night looking for that programme (which I was speaking about yesterday) about the National Grid - when I stumbled across another documentary on quite another channel. It was called "The World's Toilet Crisis". With a title like that, I just had to know more.

Well, I still cannot get it out of my mind. Unbelievable! It was about the fact that we (at least in certain countries) are drowning in a sea of our own human waste.

Apparently, an estimated 40% of the world's population has no access to toilets and defecate anywhere they can. This documentary investigates how developing countries are trying to solve an epidemic that few people want to talk about--the world's toilet crisis.
If you want to see it - it's uncomfortable viewing but I'd recommend it!

ALSO if you want to join in on the BBC's Hands on History project - send us your photos here.

Life's too short to worry about living longer...

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Anne Diamond | 15:40 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010

loaf of bread

Must be feeling old. Found myself reading articles in today's papers about living longer.

There's a huge piece in the Mail about how we should give up carbs (and eat lots of green veggies etc) in order to trigger the "Sweet Sixteen" gene that's in all of us. Apparently, our lifespan is dictated by the delicate balance of two genes in our DNA (called the Grim Reaper gene and the Sweet Sixteen gene!) and giving up carbs (even good, complex ones) will apparently stimulate the Sweet Sixteen gene to make you live longer.

They've already done it with mealworms - they've extended the life of mealworms by a factor of three! But the work has only been with mealworms, so don't get too excited.

So should we all be trying to cut back on carbs? Even though that flies in the face of many years of health advice which has told us to pig out on "healthy" wholemeal bread? It's going to be a huge problem for me - I'm a carb addict. I absolutely crave wholemeal bread. Time to give up yet another favourite!

Beds. Too good to share!

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Anne Diamond | 12:50 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

couple in bed

I don't think I could ever, ever, ever share a bed again. Don't get me wrong - I can totally foresee a time when I might entertain again...if you see what I mean. But to always share a bed? Nah! Not even if he were a billionaire with a bed the size of a tennis court!

According to one sleep expert with whom I spoke today, Dr Neil Stanley, we are the only species on the planet where mates co-sleep. It literally happens nowhere else in the animal world. We have for some reason created a ritual that is, perhaps, unnatural!
Yet it is a fairly recent habit. In Days of Yore, couples didn't sleep together. Mothers slept with the children and fathers slept in the prime position in the cave or dwelling, probably near the fire!

Now, we hear, a quarter of British couples sleep in separate beds because one partner has an unbearable night time habit, like snoring, hogging the duvet, mumbling, moaning and sleeptalking!

A friend of mine says John Lewis have already recognised this and are in the process of developing a king size duvet that's half light-weight and half heavyweight - because that's what they are asked for time and again!

Sleep - it's such a luxury and yet such so vital. Too important to risk on the doubtful sleeping habits of another human!

What's so wrong with getting on your bike to find work?

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Anne Diamond | 12:30 UK time, Friday, 22 October 2010

Job Centre Computer

Losing your job ain't funny. I know. It's happened to me. Several times! It has happened to both of my guests this morning on my BBC Radio Berkshire show. And none of us could understand why former Tory Leader and now Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has come under fire for suggesting the unemployed should "get on a bus" and be prepared to travel to find work.

In a remark a little reminiscent of Norman Tebbit's 1981 suggestion that workless people should "get on their bikes" to find work, IDS has infuriated at least one union spokesman who says its an insult to the jobless.

But, I say, what's wrong with the idea of busting a gut to find your next job? Yes, I completely understand that it may be very difficult for some, especially if they're tied to one spot by elderly relatives or dependent children who can't easily move. But, nevertheless, surely you have to try everything you can think of - not just to earn money but also to keep your own sense of "self" and your vital self esteem, personal pride and confidence.

I don't like it, but I drive miles to my various jobs, because I have to.

My guests, Ian Bedwell and Sue Roberts, have done the same, having been made redundant themselves. Ian said he saw the axe falling some six months before it actually did, so he set aside time every Friday to build up his contacts and start making plans for the future. Eventually, he built up his own company and travels throughout Europe looking for clients.

"Never mind getting on my bike, of the bus, to look for work. I commute to the Netherlands, and changed my whole lifestyle to find work. Why should it be an insult to the jobless to suggest they should try everything they can?" said Ian. Sue agreed. She's a life coach now, running her own business, because she was made redundant.

"You have to do what it takes," she said. "And it's important to go that extra mile."
The days of a life working and living in the same town are over, as are the days of a job for life or even a council house for life.

I totally understand that it's harder for some than others. But for those who can, a daily commute on the bus to find work in the next town or city is surely better than life on benefits.

In the unlikely company of our best British batsmen!

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Anne Diamond | 13:30 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Anne Diamond with Cricketers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cooke

I went to the launch of a new club in London's Regent Street last night. There I was happily quaffing Mojitos with some very good looking and dapper men, when a friend took me to one side and asked: "Do you know who those guys are?" I didn't. But you probably know they're Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, top British cricketers, opening batsmen and Andrew's the England captain! The guy next to me is Nick Hollingworth, who's CEO of Austin Reed. No relation to my former husband whatsoever!

I'm not a tree hugger, honest!

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Anne Diamond | 13:15 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I've been a vegetarian since I did one too many interviews about Mad Cow Disease back in the 80s. The more I found out about some of our farming methods, the more I gagged at the whole idea of eating meat. We have lots of animated discussions about this at home, because my boys are adamant carnivores, so as their mum, I find myself cooking meat even though I hate it!

But I reckon we all should go meat-free. After all, since we "rich" countries in the West can easily get a healthy balanced diet from beans, pulses and vegetables, how can it be morally defensible to slaughter animals?

The Friends of the Earth (with research done at Oxford University) say we could prevent around 45,000 early deaths if we all cut back to just three meat meals a week. What's more, it would save the NHS an estimated 1.2 BILLION pounds a year!

So I say, go on! Give it a go! Try a meat-free Monday and do yourself, and the rest of the world, some real good.

PS My love to local pig farmer, Audrey French, who's a regular on my show. Audrey, please don't take this as a snub to your marvellous bacon sarnies. On days when Audrey comes into the studio with her fare, I become a "flexitarian" - that's a vegetarian who just cannot resist the smell of free-range, home-cured bacon!

Feeling guilty about my birds.

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Anne Diamond | 12:32 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

They say you should be constant if you're going to feed the birds in your garden. If you're going to put out seed and grain for them, you've got to be reliable - or those little birds will starve if you suddenly go away on holiday!

So I'm feeling guilty - because that's exactly what I did. I've been avidly feeding the birds all summer - and fighting the squirrels off. And then I went away on holiday for a coupla weeks and the squirrels got into the feed box and wrecked it. So I have not yet got back into the routine and the poor birds have gone without.

I'm not such a sinner, though, according to one of my guests this morning, who's a horticulture and bird expert from Thatcham Garden Centre, because I've got plenty of berry and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs in my garden.

Karen Coleman, who was telling me about Wild Bird Care Fortnight, said I should get back to putting out seeds and dried mealworms (I can't bear to deal with the live ones!) for the robins, and if I want to try attracting gold finches ( which are coing to Britain right now, to get away from the cold winters of Northern Europe, Karen reckons I should plant verbena boneriensis. That's a job for next Spring, though! Until then, I also caught a snatch of Gardener's Question Time on Sunday, where they were telling everyone to start planting sweet peas. Reminds me of the one time I met media magnate and interior design and gardening goddess, Martha Stewart.

I was interviewing her on Good Morning With Anne and Nick, about her new book - a gardening bible which tells you, month by month, what you could be doing in the garden. It was ( and still is, because I still have it and love leafing through it) a delightful guide to the perfect gardening lifestyle - with the most fantastic pictures of Martha's unbelievably perfectionist Connecticut home, with gorgeous house and breathtaking gardens. She was very much into sweet pea growing, so that she'd always have them as wonderful cut flowers in the summer.

I tried so hard to do a Martha Stewart with my sweet peas but never quite managed anything but a few pathetic stems. Inspired by Gardener's Question Time, I'm going to have another go. Apparently you can either sow them in the early Spring - or now, and harden them up through the winter for planting out in the Spring. Here goes - another challenge! I'll let you know how it goes!

A Chilean celebration!

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Anne Diamond | 13:10 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010

A friend of mine (who didn't have to work the next day!) held a Chilean party overnight while the "Los 33" miners were being brought back into the daylight by the amazing Phoenix rescue capsule. What fantastic images, and what a wonderful GOOD news story!

Rather like holding an election party, and raising your glass at each result, she and her mates toasted the safe return of each miner. It was a long, exhausting and rather tipsy night but a fantastic reason for a party!

So I'm going to do a Chilean barbecue this weekend. Never been to Chile, though. So what's the food like?

Thought I'd ask a local chef - Sanjeev (not such a Chilean name, but he knew his stuff!) from the Latin American eatery, Las Iguanas, in Reading.

He said Chilean food is very sea-food based, with lots of smashing sauces mostly flavoured with tomatoes and peppers and often coconut or ginger.

So a simple recipe for Chilean Mussels: Pan fry a mix of fresh, open mussels, squid, shrimps and salmon. Then "chuck in" chopped tomato, coconut or palm oil and a little ginger. Then add sliced mixed peppers and serve with oriental rice or fried plantain. Sounds very tasty!

Apparently Chileans LOVE their food. They also have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. A doctor I know tells me he fears that his home country, Chile, has divided into two sets of people - the rich slim and the fat poor. He says that, like so many parts of the world, the lifestyle is now food heavy and exercise light. Now those with enough money to pay for health clubs and diet regimes are doing something about their weight. Meanwhile, the poorer population are getting fatter on unhealthy, fast food.

I can imagine those miners, who were on special NASA diet rations for their last few weeks, have been looking forward to their favourite meals. One huge favourite, according to reports, is empanadas - a national speciality. It sounds rather like the Chilean version of a Cornish pasty, a pastry envelope stuffed with either meat of cheese, and occasionally a hidden olive! Then, of course, there's avocados, huge and stuffed with seafood and mayonnaise.

Today's Telegraph reports that Chilean wines are selling out in UK supermarkets. There are some very fine Chilean red wines about, and a great Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, apparently at reasonable prices.

I can't be the only one planning a family party to celebrate the miners' recovery!

Coming home. The story that always enthralls.

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Anne Diamond | 13:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

This scene is home to me - and always will be no matter where in the world I live. It's the Malvern Hills. It's where I was brought up. Whenever my family went on holiday, we always knew we were home when we saw this sight from our homeward bound car - in fact there was always a competition within the members of the family to see who could spy the Malverns first. I can still feel a sense of delight and excitement.

Coming home - it's one of the strongest emotions in the human condition, I think - and it's why we have all, right throughout the world, been so enchanted by the images of the Phoenix rising in Chile, bringing those 33 miners home to the embrace of their families. It's been a wonderful, unfolding, GOOD news story - but more importantly than that - it's been the story of a homecoming.

It reminded me of the time the world united to witness the endurance of those three American astronauts aboard the stricken Apollo 13, thousands of miles away from home.
Afterwards, I saw an interview with commander Jim Lovell (one of my heroes!) who said that he felt the world was united behind their challenge because it was about "coming home". He described it as the strongest story of man - the story of coming home. It's a basic instinct. And when you think about it - many of the greatest tales, and movies, are about amazing homecomings.

I reckon we all have our own "homecoming" image. My guest on today's programme was
Dorian Edwards, musical director of Sing Bramley, Sing Wokingham and even Sing BBC Radio Berkshire choirs. He said his was the sight of the Chilterns, spread out on the distant horizon,whenever he was driving home from work.

One of my best friends says his is the huge chimneys of the Didcot power station. Whenever he sees them, he knows he's only twenty minutes from home. Another colleague cites Windsor castle - which he can see from the M4 as he's commuting. Again, he then knows he'll be at home and hearth within a half hour.

What's yours?

Yes, wonderful things!

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Anne Diamond | 16:14 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Anne and Lady Carnarvon

I absolutely LOVE Egyptology! So today was a real treat - because today my programme was live from Highclere Castle, home for hundreds of years to the Carnarvon family.

"Yes, wonderful things!"

Those are the three simple words whispered by Egyptologist Howard Carter in reply to Lord Carnarvon's question "what can you see?"

They'd just made the first chink in the seal to Tutankhamen's tomb, and Carter held up a candle which spluttered and spurted in the draught of 3,500 year old air - air which had not been breathed since the ancient Egyptians first sealed the tomb and treasures.

Anne and the team at today's outside broadcast

This is the moment that has been captured in the most extraordinary and dramatic way at Highclere Castle. You can go into the murky darkness and lift a tiny hatch on a bare wall, and peer into history - or at least, a recreation of it! You can see, with almost the same feeling of curiosity and delight, a dimly lit treasure room, with bits of golden chariot and other artefacts.

Further in, there's a remarkable, golden delicious exhibition of Tutankhamen's best bits and pieces. Of course, they're replicas! Where on earth do you go to get a replica made of Tutankhamen's famous sarcophagus? Fiona, Lady Carnarvon, isn't saying! But it is all so splendid, you'd definitely think it's the real thing - and I've seen the real thing in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo.

A totally BRILLIANT day - thanks to all!

My first Girl Guide badge!

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Anne Diamond | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010

Anne's studio guests, October 7th 2010

It's a hundred years since they started the Girl Guides and one of the first ever guiding groups was here in Berkshire - at Pinkneys Green. In fact, it was set up by Robert Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes, who came and camped with the gals several times in its first few years.

In those days, you could get a badge for cobbling! Nowadays, they've evolved with the times and you're more likely to strive for a badge in environmental studies.

For some reason, I don't really quite know why, I never joined the Brownies or the Guides - so I've never ever earned a badge. But today I got my first - a centenary badge.

Guides Centenary badge

It was presented to me by two lovely ladies, Jane Bingham who's centenary champion for the Girl Guides in Berkshire, and Tracy Gillingham who's a Rainbow leader. Rainbows are the littl'uns, aged 5-7. Then there's the Brownies, then the Guides and then something else I'd never heard of before - a Trefoil Guild which caters for older Guides.

In fact, in Reading, there's a 95 year old lady called Evelyn who's still a staunch member of the Guides. Astonishing. That makes her nearly as old as the movement itself!

Paws for thought...

Anne Diamond | 13:23 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Cat paw

It was hardly surprising to see in the weekend papers that Union Leader Bob Crow has a pit bull terrier, of all dogs, and that it is called Castro!

It got me thinking about imaginative names for pets and what they say about you, the owner. The most imaginative I've ever had myself was a hamster called Hamlet, which isn't too exciting. But my listeners in Berkshire have come up with some corkers!

Winston Churchill had a cat named Nelson, Adolf Hitler had a German Shepherd called Blondi, John Lennon had a cat called Elvis, Martha Stewart a chow called Genghis Khan and Audrey Hepburn a Yorkshire terrier called Mr Famous!

Even better - in Berkshire we have several examples of grey fearsome moggies named "Chairman Mao", and even a Labrador called "Albus Dumbledog"... Twin dogs called "Bonnie" and "Clyde", a mastiff called "Snowdrop" and a dachsund called "Banger" (Sausage dog, geddit?).

What about the names given to four local "Chinese Crested" dogs called "Havoc", "Chaos", "Trouble" and "Nuisance" and yet two more poor dogs called "You".

One listener's husband nearly called the family dog "Taxi" so that his wife would sound crazy when calling him.

What about "Ali Khat" for a Persian kitten? Or a Doberman called "Jaws" who works as a dog in an old people's home and is actually an old softie!

I loved the story of a rescue British Blue cat who was nicknamed "Tyson" in his foster home, because he kept fighting the other cats, but who was ultimately renamed "Henry Cooper", and is now known as "Coop".

I personally love the name "Mr Tumnus" because I'm a Narnia fan, and also "Womble", "Saffie" and "Ziggy".

Finally, for a litter, I thought this was tres imaginative - "Hugh", "Pugh" "Barney McGrugh", "Cuthbert", "Dibble" and "Grub"!

Land army girls

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Anne Diamond | 12:40 UK time, Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Audrey pic 1

Lovely bacon sarnies this morning as my special guest was local pig farmer and businesswoman Audrey French, from Arborfield near Reading.

But she wasn't just talking bacon this morning - she brought in these wonderful pictures of the lovely local ladies who were part of the Women's Land Army in the war.

These pictures were given to Audrey by a woman who was billeted at Burchetts Green near Maidenhead. But Audrey never took the woman's name, and now she doesn't know who these girls are, nor whether any of them still live locally.

Audrey pic 2

Perhaps others might be able to look at these wonderful historical snapshots, and recognise their own mother or grandmother - particularly if they live in nearby Mortimer, near Newbury, which is where Audrey reckons the picture of the house may be from. So, if anyone recognises anything about these wonderful pictures, get in touch and we'll pass on the information to Audrey, who's trying to build up a more comprehensive picture of the work done by the Land Army girls in the Berkshire area.

Of course, many of the Land Army girls felt they were the poor relations of the women's forces, because they didn't get a glamorous uniform and they weren't held in the same respect as the women in the Armed Forces.

If you want to find out more, pop along to Audrey's Open Farm day this Saturday - find out more on her website.

What a fantastic opening to the Commonwealth Games!

Anne Diamond | 14:55 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

A float in the shape of a train passes by with performers during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi

I didn't mean to - but I caught the opening of the Commonwealth Games on TV this weekend and was absolutely captivated. I must confess I started watching it to see if it was going to be a massive flop - but it was utterly brilliant! Did you see the fantastic train and the huge Buddha? And the dancing was so colourful! Let's hope the games themselves will be as successful as the opening ceremony. I'm really looking forward to the table tennis. Ooh, and the tennis. And the lawn bowls. Enjoy!

What a way to spend a Friday!

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Anne Diamond | 12:37 UK time, Friday, 1 October 2010

If there's ever a time when local radio comes into its own - it's when you're in a traffic jam (or snow!). I have worked for BBC Oxford, BBC London and BBC Radio Berkshire, and now I know whenever the travel news is on, wherever I'm driving.

Many, many times, I've been stuck in stationary traffic on the A34, the M4 or the M3/M27 when I've been commuting between home, work, and my mum's home in Bournemouth, and I have been so eternally grateful for the travel news.

The M4 motorway was closed until 12.00. (Picture taken by Jonathan Pratt.)

And that's the message that came over loud and clear today, when what was going to be a regular Friday "Weekend Warmup" programme was hijacked by the total closedown of the M4, and poor listeners who were stuck in their cars for five hours. One caller, Chad, was on his way to a friend's wedding in Torquay. He'd set off bright and early from London, was in plenty of time to make it to Torquay by 1pm, and was just driving through Berkshire at about 7.30 when all the traffic ground to a halt. At 10 minutes to 1, just as his friends were walking up the aisle in Torquay, Chad was only just beginning to move along the motorway. Hope they kept some wine and coronation chicken for you, Chad!

And we also heard the woeful tale of Vanessa, stuck in her car, who was desperate to answer the call of nature. Glad to report she was lent an umbrella by a fellow driver, and she skulked off into the bushes without losing her dignity.

Well done to all (especially Marie Copley at Berkshire Traffic Control) for keeping everyone sane. Hope my journey home is better than theirs!

It's October, which means it's conker time. The horse chestnut trees are brimming with ripe conkers and my sons and I love a good conker fight. Berkshire has a particularly good crop of conkers this year, so get out in the rain and enjoy!

Scottish conkers from the 2007 season

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