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Archives for December 2009

The Final Hours Of 2009

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:34 UK time, Thursday, 31 December 2009


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It seems like only a year ago I was sitting in this very office, at this very desk, writing about the final hours of 2008. Actually it was.

Today, I've just come in ouy of the snow having captured my final image from the castle esplanade in Inverness. The photograph above was taken at about half past twelve this afternoon. Huge globules of white stuff tumbling from the sky. Well, at least it tidies things up for Hogmanay. It's like getting a fresh lick of emulsion over the brown, grit-stained slush.

I've just called Fiona Aitken, our Senior Producer in Aberdeen. She says the weather isn't so bad there but hopes that Tom Morton is making his way carefully to the Lerwick studio to celebrate his birthday by presenting his last afternoon show of the year. He knows how to have fun.

I can't get hold of any of the music producers in Glasgow, but I assume they're busy organising the run-through for the Hogmanay Show from the Pacific Quay restaurant tonight.

As for me, I'm off home with instructions to pick up some bread and milk on the way.

Once again, thanks for listening to BBC Radio Scotland during the past twelve months. I'll be back on the blog soon with news of some exciting things we have planed for January and February.

Meanwhile, I hope you have a Happy New Year...and here's a look at the changing seasons of this past year...

Hogmanay Without Whisky - Cheers!

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:19 UK time, Wednesday, 30 December 2009



The fact that I'm still counting the days - ninety - since I gave up alcohol tells me that I haven't yet accepted this life without booze. Having survived Christmas Day by alternating glasses of non-alcoholic wine with tumblers of ginger cordial, my next test comes with Hogmanay. Can I see in a new decade without a nip of whisky?

A word of encouragement came from Fred MacAulay who gave up drinking for a couple of years and tells me he remembers starting those years feeling very smug while all around him were suffering from hangovers.

Tom Morton, meanwhile, has recommended a particularly delicious brand of ginger beer, but only after sending me a copy of his latest book - Journey's Blend - which involves a tour of Scottish distilleries and is illustrated with far too many mouth-watering photographs of Tom and his pals sippling Single Malts.

On the other hand, three months without a drop of the hard stuff has done wonders for my complexion. Look at that photograph of me sipping irn bru. You've got to admit I'm looking younger.

And yes I believe that haircut is coming back in to fashion.

Not in this country, though.

P.S. yes, that is me in the photo. Celebrating my thirteenth birthday in 1976.

Remembering The Bug

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:34 UK time, Wednesday, 30 December 2009


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So this well-dressed man walks into my office one day and starts telling me about the collapse of western civilisation.

"Once the power is switched off and the lights go out," he says, "there will be chaos. Traffic lights will fail and cars will crash. Hospitals won't be able to cope. The looters will be on the streets, armies will be mobilised and the governments will be operating from secret underground bunkers..."

"OK, "I said, "I get the point. Please check my computer."

Ten minutes later he had slapped a big blue sticker on the lid of my laptop and the world was just a wee bit safer.


This, of course, was more than ten years ago and the scaremonger in the suit was one of those thousands of people drafted in by organisations like the BBC to check that our computer systems were "Y2K Compliant". They would wander into offices and when people complained that they were too busy to stop working they would come out with their well-rehearsed declarations of doom.

As we stand on the thresh-hold of a shiny new decade, I wonder how many of you remember the Millennium Bug. It was one of the big talking points in the months leading up to the year 2000. As I recall, the problem began when techy folk realised that most software was designed to recognise years in just two digits. So, it was claimed, when the year flipped from '99' to '00' our computers would go into meltdown and the rest of us would be flagging down passing handcarts and thumbing a lift to Hell.

At BBC Scotland it was all taken very seriously. A special uninterruptible power supply was installed at out H.Q at Queen Margaret Drive and staff leave was cancelled for the Hogmanay period. Those required to work on that night were given special security passes and, indeed, an extra payment.

I was the Editor responsible for the Hogmanay show that year and we had drawn up a running order filled with music and entertainment with links to countries in other time zones where the new Millennium would already have begun.

Unbeknownst to many though, an alternative service had also been planned and this involved one of my colleagues sitting in a studio out at the Blackhill Transmitter. I remember him telling me that he had to wear a hard hat because there were huge icicles hanging from the transmitter pylon.

His job - should the bug start to bite - was to keep station on air so that our news journalists could provide a service of emergency information. Or, if things were only mildly apocalyptic, he could just play some records. I would love to see that playlist!

It was, of course, a huge anti-climax. I remember seeing Peter Snow on the TV with some kind of Bug-o-Meter, ready to report on computer crashes around the globe. I can't be certain, but I'm sure he ended up telling us about a faulty cash machine in Italy and a set of traffic lights blinking in Japan.

So was it real or was it a huge hoax?

Certainly the bug fixers made a pile of cash out of this global fear and to this day they would claim that the measures taken actually prevented bigger problems on the night.

I do recall a few of these experts saying that maybe they had got the date wrong and maybe they should continue with their work for another year or so. Just to be on the safe side, you understand.

To which the rest of us said "On you bike, sunshine!" and vowed never to talk about the bug until ten years had passed.

Tomorrow night, as the digits slip from '09' to '10' there seems to be no equivalent sense of foreboding. Personally I'd welcome the discovery of a limited bug which knocked out social networks and online gaming sites for a week or so.

Just imagine - all over the country teenage sons and daughters would emerge blinking from their bedrooms and would reconnect with family members. Seven days of laughter and conversation would ensue before the netbooks and Nintendos called them back to their screens.

The 'Happy New Year Bug', I'd call it.

John Peel On BBC Radio Scotland - Too Good To Miss

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:56 UK time, Tuesday, 29 December 2009



I'm hoping all these stories about TV viewing figures being a bit down on last year mean that more people were listening to the radio. If not then many of you will have missed out on some cracking programmes.

Now, it's always dangerous for me to single out any particular programme because I run the risk of being pelted with rotten fruit at the next staff meeting. But if you were fishing around for frozen giblets and didn't manage to hear John Peel's Scottish Sessions on Christmas Day then head straight to the BBC iPlayer right this minute. There you'll hear John's son, Tom Ravenscroft, talk about the contribution his dad made to the Scottish music scene. Plenty of Scottish musicians queued up to describe the thrill of hearing their demos and sessions played on Peel's Radio 1 show although, as you'll hear, he wasn't an enthusiast for everything Scottish!

The programme was produced by Nick Low who mined the Radio 1 archive for some choice clips and tracks. Nick tells me it was "one of those extra special shows that you get to make, and an overwhelming good will response from the musicians we contacted, so I was really grateful for the 2 hour slot, anything less wouldn't have done him justice."

I particularly liked the story from Clare Grogan who tells how she made John Peel an offer he couldn't refuse and persuaded him to actually sing on an Altered Images track.

As I say...iPlayer...not to be missed.

The Road Not Travelled

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Jeff Zycinski | 10:48 UK time, Tuesday, 29 December 2009


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I did something really stupid and dangerous this morning, but I'm here to tell the tale.
You see, they're building this new link road between Insches and Milton of Leys to the south of Inverness. Supposedly it will take traffic off the A9 and, in lieu of a circus or fun-fair, a lot of us locals were looking forward to its grand opening.

OK, just me then.

The recent snowfalls have obviously delayed the final stages of the construction and I sugested BBC Scotland's online reporter, Steven MacKenzie, that this might make a small news story for our local website. I even promised him some photographs.

So, at nine o'clock this morning, my car was fish-tailing through the snow and slush and then I was on foot, trudging through shin-deep mounds of the white stuff to reach the perimeter of the building site.

There's a small burn just at that point and a ten foot incline at the side of the fence. But there was a lampost in my field of view and I had to inch closer and closer to the top of the burn to get an unobstructed view of the pipes and diggers.

Suddenly I had a vision of myself lying at the foot of that slope, drenched in ice-cold water and scrabbling with ungloved hands to make my way back up to the road. I doubt I would have made it. I could have laid there, undiscovered, for hours or days.

Sure, I had a shrink-wrapped packet of Kabanos sausages in my anorak pocket (who doesn't?) but how long would that have lasted? At my usual rate of consumption we're talking about three or four minutes at most.

But I got the photos and gave them to Steven. All he has to do now is find the news story to match them.

That's the easy part.


Next Year All Our Chocolates Will Be Far Away

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:50 UK time, Monday, 28 December 2009


Just before I left the office on Christmas Eve I was sent the trail for our New Year, New You campaign. Several BBC Radio Scotland presenters are featured in it and each one of them seems to be warning that these festive days of gluttony and lethargy must soon come to an end. Next year, they say, we're all going to make a change for the better.

"It's kinda scary," I told our trails producer Ken Lindsay, but not in the way that would breach the strict BBC compliance rules. It was scary in a guilt-inducing, finger-wagging, time's-running-out-on-us kind of way. Nevertheless I signed it off and approved it for transmission. It's what I do...unless there's violence, bad language or nudity involved. I always frown on nudity.

The campaign - which starts properly the week after next - is all about finding the motivation to achieve personal goals. For many, myself included, that will be about getting fit or losing weight (yet again) but it's much more than that. Some people want to start a new career or improve their relationships with family members, others want to conquer a fear or sit down and finally write that best-selling novel.

On air we'll be hearing from experts - life coaches, psychologists - and from people who have actually made a change and want to share their own experiences.

But, as I say, that's all coming next year. Next decade in fact. No need to be scared just yet. So go back to the chocolates, finish off the Christmas sherry and have another long lie in bed if you can.

Next year, everything will be different.

Fools Rush In

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:41 UK time, Sunday, 27 December 2009



Who are these folk who sleep in shop doorways waiting for the start of the post-Christmas sales? I'm told that some of them actually turn up with their Thermos flasks and sleeping bags just as the stores are closing on Christmas Eve - two days before the sales actually begin. I mean, how bad does a family Christmas have to be before you come to prefer camping on the High Street until Boxing Day? I guess the bargains have to be worth the wait. I can't see anyone barging past the shop staff as the doors are unlocked just to get a quid off the Susan Boyle CD.

Or can I?

Anyway the TV and radio news bulletins today were full of stories about the 'Sales Rush' and, depending on who you believed, either a quarter million, half million or three squillion pounds was being spent by shoppers in Scotland alone.

I can tell you that the Zed family contributed to that figure by purchasing goods to the value of sixty-three pounds and forty pence. Not hard cash, you understand. This was all down to me encouraging the Zedettes to redeem the various gift cards and vouchers they had received as Christmas gifts. I was shaken by the collapse of Borders bookshops a few weeks ago and thought it prudent to cash in those cards before any other big-name chains went to the wall. I know this is the kind of foolishness that can actually start a panic,and I'm not proud.

The Eastgate shopping centre in Inverness was where I sent my offspring on their mission to spend. I meanwhile, had my wallet on a time-lock just in case I was led astray by any of those 'massive reductions' signs.

I wasn't.

But the Susan Boyle CD was tempting.

Clear And Present Danger

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:21 UK time, Saturday, 26 December 2009



At nine o'clock this morning BBC Radio Scotland sports reporter Charles Bannerman was on the Caley-Thistle fans website warning of "danger". Unless more people turned up to help clear the snow from the pitch then the match against Dundee might be called off.

Mrs Zed reacted to this news with a series of harumphing noises and began to list all the times when she thought the club had treated the fans badly. This included manager Terry Butcher shouting at the supporters and, well, the poor service at the pie stall. Truth is she ran out of grievances before she had used all the fingers on one hand.

In any case enough people answered the call including, I believe, some of the Dundee fans. The Zed family did their bit by actually turning up to watch the game. A one each draw was the result and, it has to be said, our chances of returning to the SPL next year are looking pretty slim.

But there was some better news.

There's been a change of management at the pie stall.

A White Christmas

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:34 UK time, Friday, 25 December 2009


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More snow overnight in Inverness meant the Zed family awoke to an official white Christmas.
It really was beautiful and from the window of our front room we could see beyond the Kessock Bridge and watch a pink sunrise colour the meringue-like mounds of Ben Wyvis.

A seven o'clock start - not bad compared to some of the middle-of-the night episodes we experienced when the Zedettes were much younger. I even had time to sip a coffee and listen to Ricky Ross and Cathy MacDonald co-hosting the Greetings Programme.


Then the mayhem began. Racal, our Lhasa Apso, was given a dog-chew Santa toy which he managed to shred within ten minutes. Well, that's what happens when you buy pet stuff in those pound shops..

Zed-son's haul of goodies included lots of video editing gear and DVDs and a radio control helicopter.

Zed-daughter was delighted with her new stock of make-up and clothes.

Mrs Zed got. among other things, a new DAB/FM radio for the kitchen which she didn't even know she needed.

Oh..and I got two bottles of delicious non-alcoholic wine. Almost three months off the booze now.

Hogmanay is going to be hard.

A Radio's For Life, Not Just For Christmas

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:28 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009


I have to be careful what I say in case I accidentally spoil the Christmas surprise for a colleague's spouse. Let me put in this way: a number of people having been asking my advice about wifi internet radios. I can bore for Scotland on this subject but it's at this time of year, when people are looking for ideas for Christmas presents, that they actually seek me out and threaten to pick what's left of my brains.

Sadly I'm not on commission from any single manufacturer, but I do think these radios are brilliant. The new models combine wifi internet reception with FM and DAB and the high-end sets even have USB slots for memory cards and so on.

If you have a broadband router or hub then they're portable around the house and garden, but some sets do need to be plugged into the mains and the others soak up a lot of battery power. And they're still fairly pricey...a colleague who ordered one from an online retailer paid just over a hundred pounds and that was a good deal.

Now you may well be wondering why I, of all people, would recommend anyone buys a radio that offers listeners the choice of thousands of different stations from around the world. Well, I don't have a logical answer to that other than to 'fess up that I'm a radio enthusiast to the core. Also, as I've said before, these internet radios work very well with the range of services offered by BBC radio stations. You can listen to the live streams, find particular programmes via the on-demand service and even browse BBC radio podcasts too.

And only with BBC Radio Scotland can you listen to five alternative streams of programmes - our famous Zones - grouped into genres to suit different tastes. We are, in fact, reorganising those Zones in early January...creating a new Conversation Zone and Culture Zone. If you go to our Zones page you'll find the URL details of each Zone because some internet sets require you to key that in.

But if, after all that, you're not convinced then socks and scarves are good too.

Merry Christmas.

BBC Radio Scotland Spokes-Men Heading For A Fall

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:36 UK time, Wednesday, 23 December 2009


If you want to see one of our top journalists falling off his bike in this bad weather, then head for Glasgow Green tomorrow morning. Phil Wells, the Editor of Good Morning Scotland, has twice come a cropper on his way into work...both times at exactly the same place.

You'd think he'd learn from his mistakes, wouldn't you? But he's not alone. I'm told that Stephen Hollywood, who runs the MacAulay & Co show, has also taken a tumble from the saddle.

And a few weeks ago Bryan Burnett also went over his handlebars while biking in Bearsden. He got taken to hospital to be patched up and the docs told him to put his bike away until the springtime. He has.

I tell you this because I've received a few e-mails from curious and concerned listeners wondering how our production teams and presenters are managing to get into the studios to report on the weather problems across Scotland.

Phil tells me that most of the Good Morning Scotland team are getting up at half past two in the morning so they can pull on their wellies and scrape their cars. (or, in his case, snap on his bicycle clips) Those who don't live in Glasgow have been spending nights in hotels around Pacific Quay.

"No one's moaning." he tells me, which might be because situations like this create a spirit of camaraderie...or else people are just glad to be avoiding Christmas shopping.

Either way, I really ought to be sending messages of thanks and encouragement to the radio staff. But I'm not. Instead I've been annoying the news and travel presenters with my annual moan about the excessive use of the word "treacherous" to describe the road conditions.

Honestly, you can play "treacherous bingo" by counting the number of times you're hearing that word on TV and radio these days. Mostly it comes from the official statements released by the police and other emergency services.

All alternatives gratefully received. Or else it's time for a new thesaurus.


I knew I'd get intoi trouble for this blog post. Now I have other programme teams e-mailing to tell me about the struggles they had in getting to work today. This from Carolyn Beckett who runs our Cafe programmes from Edinburgh.

"It's not just the news and travel presenters braving the elements to get in. Today, with Janice off sick, Chris Kane has managed to get to Edinburgh from Stirling, producer Bronwen Tulloch braved it through the 'treacherous' snowdrifts in East Lothian and the rest of us gave up on Lothian Buses and walked!"

Whatever Floats Your Boat

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:44 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009


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Our wee plastic sledge fell to pieces last winter and was never replaced. Naturally they became a sell-out item in every Inverness shop as soon as the snow fell. Undeterred, the Zed-kids found the inflatable dinghy we brought back from Lanzarote the summer before last.

Tonight it was put into service as a snow-boat and soon local children were queuing up for rides down the neighbourhood slopes.

I can see this ending in tears...or tatters.

Here's hoping it thaws tomorrow.

The White Stuff And The Funny Stuff

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:16 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009



Everything looks better when the sun is shining. The cold snap continues to get colder in Inverness but folk here are getting into the swing of it. I saw one young chap making his way along the streets on skis. I dropped my own offspring at the school gates this morning and, of course, their faces were tripping them. They had been pinning their hopes on another day of sledging and snowballs, but no luck. Additional local bulletins on BBC Radio Scotland brought the grim (for them) news that the classrooms were open and the teachers were waiting! I felt their pain.

Back at work and we're into the early stages of our festive schedule. This week we're stripping the entire new series of Desperate Fishwives across the mornings at half past eleven.

You may have seen the news at the weekend that my TV colleagues are to make a pilot episode of the show for the small screen. The new BBC Scotland comedy boss, Jemma Rodgers, has an impressive track record in producing surreal shows - like The League of Gentelmen - so it will be interesting to see how she deals with Aberdeenshire and the weird world of the Fishwives.

Hot And Cold And Falling More Slowly

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:32 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009


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Drama in the Inverness newsroom this afternoon when a radiator pipe ruptured sending a pressurised jet of hot water all over the carpet. The place was horribly soaked before someone could rescue the situation with the inevitable strip of black gaffer tape while we waited for the plumber to arrive.

The snow, meanwhile, was causing all sorts of problems in the Highlands this morning. Most of the local schools were closed and there were umpteen reports of skids and bashes on the roads. I paid my son five quid if he would get out of bed and dig my car out of the driveway. He did a great job - I was watching from the window - and I rumbled slowly into the office. The police, of course, were advising people not to make unnecessary journeys, but how do you define 'unnecessary'? I, for example, had to get to my desk and listen through to a number of pre-recorded programmes that will be part of BBC Radio Scotland's Christmas Day schedule. Not exactly life or death stuff, but I didn't want to leave you with dead air while you're cooking your turkey.

Also, I had one last bit of Christmas Shopping to do and that meant a walk down Castle Street and into the city centre. By lunchtime the pavements were fairly slushy - it was like walking through a massive grey sorbet. I slipped a few times and think no one noticed. But you never know these days. So many people have cameras on their mobile phones that my accidental gymnastics might soon end up as one of those "surprise You Tube hits" that we're always reading about.

It would probably look funnier in slow motion.

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Take Your Pick

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:45 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009


Crime writer Val McDermid was presenting BBC Radio 4's Pick of the Week and, among her choices, were two programmes from BBC Radio Scotland.

She kicked off the programme with an extract from How To Be A Respectable Woman - Susan Morrison's witty and telling portrayal of old fashioned Scottish values mixed with memories of the women she encountered when she was growing up.

Val also picked out What Happened Next? which featured Kat Marshall, who was living in Lockerbie on the night that Pan Am flight 103 fell from the sky. Kit went on to work with relatives of the American victims and her stories and descriptions are deeply emotional.

This is, of course, the season for looking back and the BBC Radio Scotland online team have also been at it. They've put together a list of the station's highlights from 2009, with links to photographs, audio, video and ven the odd blog or two. You can find that here.

I ought to jump on this bandwagon myself and select my favourite photographs from a year of blogging. Come back later and you'll see what I've decided. Bit it will be my choice, not yours, so don't expect any pictures of that pesky dog of mine.


OK...I've decided on this image from our SoundTown project at Alva Academy this year. It reminded me that the pupils from the school (and surrounding schools) managed to get a No. 1 hit single with their song The Haggis...raising thousands of pounds for Comic Relief in the process. Happy days.


Snow Business

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:31 UK time, Sunday, 20 December 2009



My son dragged me out of bed this morning so that I could take part in a screaming snowball fight in the back garden. I'm sure the neighbours were delighted. I tried to make amends later by shovelling a good section of the road and scattering some grit. No one seemed impressed.

But it's funny how a few inches of snow induces such excitement and panic. We have friends trying to make their way up the A9 from Edinburgh tonight, but I don't suppose they're thrilled about that. Luckily I have no plans to travel to Pacific Quay this week, but it might be hard enough to reach the BBC building at Culduthel Road. The forecast says it will be minus 10 by nine o'clock tomorrow morning.

Here in Inverness, lots of people have abandoned their cars at the side of the main roads because they don't want to risk the slalom route through the ungritted streets of the housing estates.

But the children are having fun. I've seen half a dozen snowmen, one igloo, one snow-fort and a weird snow sculpture that ought to win the Turner prize.

Oh...and our dog, Rascal, loves the snow too.


Christmas Post

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:41 UK time, Saturday, 19 December 2009



When that small avalanche of post slipped through our letter-box this morning, Mrs Zed started her usual bragging. She always gets many more cards than I do and, boy, she doesn't half like to go on about it. The thing is, she has kept contact with friends and colleagues for every period of her life. She's had cards from people she hasn't seen since Primary school.

I, on the other hand, had two pieces of mail this morning. The first was from my new pen-friend Paul Ogle who, it turns out, is the Managing Director of a well-known dry-cleaning firm. He wrote to give me the "good news" that I could now have five shirts or blouses cleaned free if I cough up for the cleaning of four other garments. No mention of his family, you'll notice, nor his plans for the festive season.

"That's an advertising circular, " said Mrs Zed, "that doesn't count as Christmas post."

I brushed aside her gloating remarks and ripped open my second letter. This was from Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

"Dear Jeffrey Zycinski," he began, "What kind of country do you want to live in?"

I was just about to fetch the Atlas when I was diverted by the sound of Mrs Zed's mocking laughter.

"A political leaflet and an advert from your dry cleaners," she hooted, "pathetic!"

She can be very cruel at times. If she's not careful I wont send her a card.

Making Light Of It All

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:32 UK time, Wednesday, 16 December 2009



It's funny how a few coloured lights can transform a location. I was leaning over the balcony at Pacific Quay this morning, looking at the set-up for BBC Scotland's environmental debate programme. It's similar to the layout we use for Brian Taylor's Big Debate programme on the radio, but when the cameras appear then so, too, do the lighting experts.

Editor John Boothman told me how a few carefully placed lights on the adjoining stairwells can give the TV picture the illusion of depth. To my eye it looked rather splendid...with the pink and purple glow adding a festive feeling to our working environment. Of course I kept that thought to myself in case John thought I wasn't taking TV production seriously enough.craigend-towers.jpg

Later I was on Santa duty myself, delivering presents to family members in Craigend, in the east end of Glasgow. If you travel on the M8 you'll be familiar with the big concrete water towers that dominate the skyline out that way. Eyesores by day, perhaps, but at night they are illuminated with a slowly changing sequence of colours.

I used to tell my children that these towers were used by Buzz Lightyear as his base when he was in Scotland. I wonder if they still believe that.

Hear Here

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:41 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009



You'd be amazed at the number of people who write to tell me I ought to have my hearing tested. It's so nice to know that complete strangers care so much about my health. Of course they usually make that suggestion while complaining about a scheduling decision, but I'll take what I can get.

This morning I did, indeed, go to have my hearing tested. They're doing batch testing of all the BBC staff in Inverness at the moment. A few years ago the BBC's own nurse would arrive from Glasgow with her litle box of medical kits and would test our hearing, blood pressure and stress levels all at the one time.

These days we have to make appointment at the Occupational Health department tucked in a little brick building behind Raigmore Hospital. A nurse called 'Mags' asks you a few questions, peers into your ears with a pointy torch and then asks you to step into a tiny soundproof booth which reminded me of the glass booth they used to have to TV programmes like Mr & Mrs and The Sky's The Limit. You listen on headphones to a series of bleeps and you have to press a little button to confirm you've heard each one.

I told Mags that I was concerned about my hearing because, as I get older, I can't make out what people are saying if there are a lot of people talking at once, or if I'm at a party and trying to make out the small-talk.

I needn't have worried. Apparently my hearing is "very good" for someone of my age, although I do have a "squiggly ear canal" and a little scarring in my right membrane that might have been caused by an infection picked up in a swimming pool.

But the good news for those of you who like to tell me where I'm going wrong is that I'm hearing you loud and clear.

Three Radio Stations In One Day

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:53 UK time, Monday, 14 December 2009



A pre-dawn drive to Inverness airport this moring to catch the seven o'clock flight to Gatwick. They make you check in an hour before take-off so that you're tempted to gorge yourself on bacon butties and buy useless trinkets from the souvenir shop. Or is that just me?

At half past nine I was in Oxford Street killing time before my series of meetings at or near Broadcasting House. My first meeting was actually at Western House, the home of BBC Radio 2 where I had an appointment with the station Controller Bob Shennan. They make you pass a little initiative test at Western House. You press the button for the lift and, sure enough, your hear the usual ping and the sound of elevator doors opening. But not the ones you're standing in front of. Eventually you notice an illuminated arrow directing you to an alcove a few paces to the right, but by the time you figure that out the secret lift has closed its doors and its hurtling to the top floor.

I confess it took me three goes before I got the timing right on that.

After seeing Bob I walked over the Broadcasting House to see Mary Kalemkerian at BBC Radio 7. She gave me a guided tour of her offfices and studios and introduced me to her small but jolly team. I do envy her for having a team that fits into one office. No need to travel around the country week after week to communicate schedule changes. She can simply stand at one end of the room and tell everyone her plans. Bliss.

Later I took a few steps out of Radio 7, crossed a marked threshold on the carpet and found myself in the land of Radio 4 for a meeting with Controller Mark Damazer and his commissioning team. That was one of those big scary meetings with lots of analysts and editors and even a PowerPoint presentation. Old School BBC, really


A useful day, though, and my firtst trip to the Great Metropolis in many months. I got back to Inverness at nine o'clock tonight thinking that London is nice place to visit, but not at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

And isn't it odd the things some of those folk down there want to advertise?

Tree Fellers

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:38 UK time, Sunday, 13 December 2009



We bought a real Christmas tree for the house. Is that a bad thing? I think it must be because when I suggested we get one for the BBC reception in Inverness I got a right ticking off from the Head of Trees or some such person.

Yet someone else told me that if you buy a tree from the Forestry Commission then it allows them to plant dozens more for future generations. Is that true?

Besides, when I was a child we always had an artificial tree. I think my parents bought in from Woolworths in 1959 and every January we'd shove it back in its cardboard box, dismembering a few wire branches in the process.

Each December, when we pulled it out again, it would look a little more scabby than the year before. Latterly it looked like a collection of wire coat hangers with tinsel wrapped around it.

So I reckon I'm owed about fifteen years of real trees. Any objections?

Watching Paint Dry

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:43 UK time, Friday, 11 December 2009


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Great excitement at the BBC in Inverness this week as the painters finally arrived to tart up the outside of the building. This, in fact, is penultimate stage of the renovation work that began in October 2006 (see photograph to the right).
Still, it means the project will be complete before the end of the decade.

Once the paintwork is refreshed we'll have new signs telling passers-by that this is the Beeb's H.Q. in the Highlands. I might even stick around to watch the paint dry, but it depends if there's anything better than that on the telly tonight (that's just a wee radio joke - I do like to tease my TV chums).

Acting Your Age

Jeff Zycinski | 19:31 UK time, Thursday, 10 December 2009


Did you know that children aren't allowed to buy Christmas crackers? Pull the other one eh? No, it's true. Apparently Christmas crackers are classed as explosives and it's against the law for kids to buy them.'s another amazing fact. Apparently the actor David Tennant is allowed to make public appearances and persuade people to buy Doctor Who books and DVDs...but not if he's actually in costume and speaking with the Doctor's English accent. You see, the character of The Doctor is part of the BBC's public service, while the merchandise is controlled by the commercial wing. The BBC's Fair Trading guidelines stipulate that the two things have to remain separate. I think that means that Daleks and Cybermen could appear on chat shows, but they can't flog stuff unless they undress.

In case you're wondering where I'm going with all this, I should explain that I've spent much of the week in Glasgow completing the various BBC training courses that I have to tick off before the end of the year. 'Fair Trading' was on Tuesday and today it was 'Working with Children'.

As you can imagine there are all sorts of rules and regulations you have to consider when you include young people within programmes. Parental consent, working hours, the risk that pushy parents will force their offspring into appearing on the radio or telly.

But how much do you know about what children are allowed to do? Try this little quiz we we had to complete before today's course.


Buy cigarettes or tobacco
Drink beer or wine in a pub if they are having a sit-down meal
Have a belly-button pierced with parental consent
Buy a lottery ticket
Buy Christmas crackers
Go to war
Be responsible for wearing a seat-belt

The answers are below...

18, 16, 14, 16, 16, 17, 14.

Talking Shop

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:40 UK time, Wednesday, 9 December 2009


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The first time I encountered a Borders bookshop was in Seattle in 1994. I was making a series of radio programmes which involved a journey down the west coast of the U.S.A. from Washingston State to California.

The very idea of a vast multi-storey bookstore, complete with coffee shop, seemed to me to be the height of sophistication. Imagine it - they actually encouraged you to sit around for hours, leafing through unpurchased volumes while sipping a hot beverage. They clearly trusted you not to spill foaming lattes over the pages. How grown-up!

Back in Scotland at that time, bookshops were stuffy places with signs on the door warning you not to bring food or drink on to the premises. The staff often affected an air of superiority. I remember going into a shop in Glasgow and asking the sales assistant for a copy of Macbeth. His eyes rolled skywards in despair and he let out a sigh like a deflating inner tube.

"Do you mean the Shakespeare play or the Scottish poet George MacBeth? It does help if you can be more specific."

So I was sorry to hear that the Borders shops in Britain were closing down. Will future economic historians call this recession the Woolworths to Borders crunch? Or is there worse to come?

What I liked about Borders is that they opened late and provided a respectable reason to go into the city centre just before bedtime. I'm getting too old for pubs, clubs and casinos but a twilight rifle through the biography shelves always gave me a bit of a thrill.

The trouble is, I did tend to do more browsing than buying. In recent years I would look at the cover-price of the books and think how much I could save if I nipped home and ordered the same volume online.

And I always wondered how cost-effective it could be to allow all those impoverished students to sit around on armchairs for hours leafing through magazines. Now, I'm no business expert but if it had been up to me I'd have chased most of them out of the shop with a carpet brush.

So farewell Borders...and my apologies for all those spillages I never owned up to.


Just The Ticket

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:05 UK time, Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Barbara-and-tree.jpgBefore I explain why the woman in this photograph is holding a small, naked artificial Christmas tree, I need to reveal some of the awful things my parents used to say about the BBC. Step into this handy time-machine while I whisk you back to, say, 1975 and you can see the Zycinski family gathered around the television set watching the Hogmanay programme on BBC 1. On the screen you will see tartan-clad collection of singers and dancers and a live studio audience enjoying the festivities, probably in a cabaret-style setting and probably with drinks on the tables.

"I wonder how you get to be part of the audience?" I ask, squeakily.

At this point my parents would go in to rant-mode and, without any inside knowledge of television production, would explain that the studio audience were all friends or friends of friends of the BBC staff, or else had secured entry because of some Masonic conspiracy, or else there was some kind of scam involving the backroom crew selling tickets in local pubs. In others words, there was no chance of folk like us getting invited to the party even if we had written to ask for tickets which, needless to say, we had not. A self-fulfilling prophecy, they call it.

All of which brings me to BBC Radio Scotland's own Hogmanay show which, once again, will come live from the rooftop restaurant at Pacific Quay. This year Robbie Shepherd and Bryan Burnett will be hosting the party alongside Cathy MacDonald. There will be live music and, we hope, a lively audience.

But I'm afraid the free tickets are all gone. Sorry.

Producer Barbara Wallace told me that Bryan and Cathy told listeners about the tickets on their shows last night. Bryan on Radio Scotland and Cathy on Radio nan Gaidheal. The Audience Line opened at nine o'clock this morning and by ten o'clock all 170 tickets had been snapped up.

"That's amazing," I told Barbara, "now hold that wee Christmas tree and I'll take a photograph and write about it on my blog."

So she did. Not sure why.

Is James Taking The Mickey?

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Jeff Zycinski | 08:29 UK time, Tuesday, 8 December 2009


James-Christie.jpgOne of our radio producers has just told me that he has harboured a life-long ambition to become an animator for the Disney organisation. Fetch me my fine-tooth comb because I want to check the small print on his BBC contract. I'm sure there's a line or two in there about swearing allegiance to the British Broadcasting Corporation until infinity...and beyond.

James Christie is the producer who has hung his coat on the shoogly peg, but I'm prepared to forgive him because he's made a cracking wee programme for Christmas Day. It's called 'The Voice of Mickey Mouse' and tells the story of Dundee man Jimmy MacDonald who , for more than thirty years, was the voice of the legendary animated rodent. Fellow Dundonian Brian Cox narrates the programme which includes some rare clips of Jimmy/Mickey in action...thanks to special permission granted by those nice folk at Disney.

This morning James was brandishing a clipping from the Daily Express and telling me that quite a few newspapers have run stories about the programme. I, too, was keen to hear more about his enthusiasm for this subject, but he's a busy man and kept glancing at his watch.

No prizes for guessing what kind of watch it was.

Four More Years?

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:30 UK time, Saturday, 5 December 2009


This blog is now four years old. If it were an American President it would be seeking re-election for a second term. If it were a child it would still be a pre-school infant. If it were a Malt whisky it wouldn't be fit for bottling.

But if it were a piece of fruit then it would be long past its sell-by date.

And, truth be told, I fear that this blog might soon be cleared from the shelves to make way for fresh stock. Yes, plans are afoot for a spanking new Radio Scotland blog with multiple contributors and more regular information about programmes.

So what will I do with the free time? Might I finally get round to writing that kiss 'n' tell book about BBC Scotland. Tom Morton once suggested such a project and had the idea to call it Up Auntie's Kilt. Perhaps I'll steal that title.

Or perhaps I'll launch an unofficial blog outwith the BBC and then I'll be free to write about whatever I like. Day after day I could post photographs of my dog and give vent to my shocking opinions about the price of chips and how the nights are fair drawing in.

Then again I might launch a 'Save JZ's blog' campaign and if I get one message of support I might persuade the powers-that-be to allow me to continue for four more years.

Just one message.

Family ,friends and vague acquaintances included.

'Tis The Season

Jeff Zycinski | 14:59 UK time, Tuesday, 1 December 2009


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want you to know that I risked a serious health relapse to bring you this month's photograph of Inverness. It's bitterly cold out there and I cut a miserable figure as I sniffed and shuffled up to the castle esplanade - my usual vantage point over the town.

So that's that. The end of my year-long project to document the changing seasons in the city.

The moving slideshow is coming soon.

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