Head of BBC Radio Scotland, Jeff Zycinski, with a sneak preview of programme plans and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his life at the helm.
So we spent the weekend in Inverness looking for a house to buy. Mrs Z had arranged a timetable based on the assumption that we would spend about thirty minutes in each house and then ten minutes driving to the next one. It didn’t quite work out that way.
You can only spend so long looking through people’s bedrooms, opening their cupboards and asking inane questions about plumbing and the number of electrical sockets. As it turned out, many of the houses on our list were within walking distance of each other, but we took the car anyway. It gave us a little sanctuary where we could compare notes and score out those properties we both hated. We also munched our way through one of those big multi-packs of crisps.
It’s interesting to see how different house-sellers approach this whole process. Some are content to point us towards rooms and let us wander freely. Others take us on a guided tour, pointing out ample shelving space and thermostats. Each one had a compelling reason for leaving their existing home which fascinated me more than the property features. I felt like I was gathering plot-lines for a soap opera. One woman gave us a detailed account of her medical history and I found myself asking about her prescription painkillers and the likely prognosis for her recovery.
Pity the poor Zedettes who trailed along behind us for most of Saturday with the promise that we’d take them to Whin Park in the afternoon. They wanted to go on the paddle-boats there, but, then it started to rain and that had to be postponed until Sunday morning.
We must have looked at twelve different properties over the weekend, but we’re no nearer to a conclusion. We might have to go for the new-build option which would delay our move to Inverness until September. Not too bad, but now that we’ve made the decision to move north we just want to get on with it.
And back home we now have to show buyers around our own home. Excuse me while I go and count the electrical sockets.
Bhangra Among The Bagpipes
An interesting article in the Sunday Times Ecosse section today about the Asian music scene in Scotland. This is something that has interested me for some years and prompted me to commission Asian Overground last year and Tigerstyle Presents this summer. It's also a regular part of our weekly Global Gathering programme where we do, indeed, mix bhangra with bagpipes, to borrow a phrase from the Sunday Times article.
Of course, Radio Scotland gets a grudging mention in the article with a bit of a slapped wrist for not doing more to promote this kind of music. No criticism, of course, of the dozens of commercial music stations in Scotland who take no interest in the scene whatsoever.
Oh well, I should really stop reading the Sunday papers. If it wasn't for The Broons and Oor Wullie in the Sunday Post then I'd give them up completely.
Except I like Paul Donovan's Radio Waves column in the Sunday Times Culture section and, well, most of the Scottish sundays too.
Oh all right then...I'll give them one more year to shape up. Otherwise I would have nothing to put in my recycling bin on Monday mornings and the neighbours would start to talk.
So What Do You Think Of Our New Van?
How do you like our new camper van? I love it but I'm not sure everyone is convinced. In fact, this afternoon I got a breathless call from Tommy Weir in our marketing department.
"Jeff..the camper van is in the car park."
"er...we think you ought to have a look at it."
I made my way out and could see a little crowd of people huddled in front of the van. We use it as a mobile studio and it will be out across Scotland this summer for various music events and festivals. A few weeks ago I had noticed it was starting to look a little weather-beaten so suggested we give it a paint job. Then came our new music advertising campaign and I thought we could use the design of that and apply it to the van. I recall a few raised eyebrows and some mutterings about my sanity. But they went ahead and did it. I am the boss, after all.
So it arrived this afternoon and I could tell that everyone was waiting for my reaction. It certainly is different from our usual blue and white BBC Scotland branded vehicles.
"Well.." I said, prolonging their agony, "I love it. I think it's fantastic."
Sighs of relief all round. Now we have to get the interior revamped to match it.
I'm afraid I've been keeping a secret from you. Sorry. But if you look back over recent diary entries you may note that I was trying to drop some hints. You see, I'm relocating to Inverness. It's now official so I can talk about it.
In fact, that's all I seem to have been doing today. I woke up in Aberdeen this morning and discovered I was making Page 3 news of The Herald, the lead story on AllMedia Scotland and, for a time, I was the breaking news on the Media Guardian's online site. Then, when I went in to the BBC studios on Beechgrove Terrace I was ushered into a little studio so I could be interviewed by Kevin MacKenzie in our Inverness newsroom. On the train back to Glasgow this afternoon I got a message to call Gerry Burke at the Inverness Courier.
Why all the fuss? Well, I suppose it's a big deal moving the Head of Radio out of Glasgow. It's certainly a big deal for the Zed family. We have to find a new home in time for the start of the school term in August.
But it's a city we love and we jumped at the chance to return. Fastest growing city in Europe, they say. We left there eight years ago and the place has certainly grown a lot since then.
So, a new chapter and a new adventure.
And lots of material for this diary!
In The Dog House
I need some advice about buying a dog. This comes on the back of my daughter's 11th birthday today and her recollection that I had promised she could have a dog "when she was older". This promise was made when she was five years old and, over the years, I have added various sub-clauses and caveats.
At various times I have made much of my supposed allergy to most furry things and pointed out that she might have to choose between me and a canine companion. She gave that one a lot of thought.
Lately, I foolishly created a loop-hole in the contract by suggesting that we could have a dog, but only if we moved house and to an area with abundant dog-walking spaces. She saw this as a glimmer of hope and, for a 11 year old, has displayed an uncommon interest in estate agents windows and the property sections of newspapers.
Today, I thought I had pulled a fast one by allowing her to have a digital dog. Yes, her birthday presents included a pink Nintendo DS hand-held games machine. This came complete with the Nintendogs game which has proved such a hit among girls.
She loved the game but it has simply reignited her longing for the real thing. Having resisted for all these years, I think I'll have to cave in.
So...anyone want to sell a dog, or buy a house?
Some World Cup Advice
Sorry to talk about football two days in a row, but we've been thinking about the forthcoming World Cup. Sadly the Scotland team will not be taking part in the tournament, but it seems we can still support Scotland in one way.
Jason Scotland who plays for Trinidad & Tobago, has become the subject of a rousing song which is doing the rounds at the moment and getting much attention from the tabloid press. I can reveal that the people behind this song have strong connections with Radio Scotland and, in particular, the MacAulay & Co show. In fact it's the brainchild of former producer Richard Melvin. You can listen again to this morning's programme for more information.
Meanwhile, some colleagues at network radio were wondering if we could give them a steer on how to avoid irritating Scottish listeners during the tournament. Before I got the chance to respond to this, I received an e-mail from Radio Scotland "groupie" Les Logan who passed on the following tips for BBC commentators. I, in turn, passed it on to London...and have been told it is very helpful. Feel free to add more...
BBC World Cup Guidelines for commentary team.
1 -Within 1 minute of kick off in the opening match (Germany v Costa Rica), the commentator must mention England.
2 - Regardless of what two teams are contesting the final, England have to be mentioned within the first minute.
3 - The commentator shall refer to the Falkland Isles in passing at some point in the match if England play Argentina.
4 - Whenever a hat trick is scored, comparisons with Geoff Hurst will be made within seconds of the third goal hitting the net.
5 - Should England wear their red jerseys, then '1966' should be mentioned approximately 20 times.
6 - 1966 will be mentioned approximately 10 times a match, or only on 4 or 5 occasions for matches not involving England.
7 - Prior to the captain of the winning team lifting the trophy, the commentator will mention Bobby Moore. And 1966.
8 - When Germany are playing, they must be referred to as being arrogant by the commentator on at least 14 occasions. This must refer to their style, their passing, their haircuts and their general footballing ability.
9 - Should England play Germany, mentions of Winston Churchill, Dambusters, The Luftwaffe and Adolf Hitler will be compulsory. And 1966.
10 - All Scottish members of our commentary team must continue to refer to England as "we" and "us".
11 - We must ensure that nationalistic stereotypes are adhered to. Of course, the Germans are arrogant. The Spanish are bottlers, The Ivory Coast are fast but bad at defending, The Angolans are disorganised, The Argentinians are cheats and the French are only good because their best players play in England.
12 - For matches not involving England, we must only discuss the players that are playing in England. (eg Holland v Argentina should be referred to as Van Nistelroy v Crespo).
13 - The mythical "bulldog spirit" phrase should be used as often as possible.
14 - Each match involving England should begin with the phrase "England Expects."
15 - Should any player be involved in an injury that involves the loss of teeth, then references to Nobby Stiles and 1966 are compulsory.
16 - If in doubt, mention 1966.
17 - Praise all of the stunning new stadiums in Germany but emphasise that they lack the presence of Wembley, the spiritual home of football since 1966.
18 - Commentators should feel free to imitate the style of Kenneth Wolstenholme, the hero of 1966.
19 - Should any team feature brothers playing together, then Jackie and Bobby Charlton should be mentioned.
20 - When England bow out after the first stage, we must emphasise that it is a massive blow to football and a serious loss to the World Cup.
The Name Of The Game
I met the team behind our Ninety Minutes programme this afternoon and we got to talking about the name of the programme.
The title, of course, refers to the duration of a football match, but, in the midweek slot, the actual programme runs for less than an hour.
At today's meeting, Jim Spence and Annie McGuire made a strong case for a change of name. Annie, in partcular, felt the name was confusing and a source of irritation for the audience.
At the start of the season last year. I had suggested we change the name to On The Game. I was laughed out of the building for that one.
So, here's a challenge for diary readers; you come up with some suggestions or else tell us why we should retain the existing name.
I promise a wonderful BBC Radio Scotland goody bag for the best suggestion. You can either leave a comment here on e-mail through the link at the top of the page.
We paid our first family visit to that Xscape place at Braehead this afternoon. The youngest Zedette had been invited to a birthday party in the indoor snow centre and the rest of us trooped along for a look-see.
It's really a massive ski-slope housed inside a giant fridge, lit by eerie fluorescent lamps. We watched from a balcony as children and adults slid around on skis, ski-boards and toboggans. The snow looked real enough but the place had the same odour as our home freezer compartment when it needs defrosting.
As our boy joined the rest of the party we took the other Zedette for a meal, telling her she could choose from any of the assorted deli-diners, pizza parlours and burger bothys available within the complex. She chose one of those places that are meant to resemble a New York Italian diner from the the Fifties. We ate to a soundtrack of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Doris Day and we were only halfway through our meal when I noticed the same tracks coming around again. Then again. Then again.
Well of course there are some radio stations that do very good business with that kind of music policy, but it was starting to drive me crazy. I asked our waitress if constant exposure to this endless loop of nostalgic Americana was having a similar impact on her sanity. She gave me a wide-eyed and pathetic nod.
"I went to bed with the first line of Amore going round my head for hours", she confessed, '... when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie....' again and again".
I tried to offer some sympathetic words, but she wouldn't let me speak. I'd opened some kind of valve. She was now in full-flow.
"And then this morning", she continued, "I couldn't remember the name of that stupid song. It drove me crazy all over again!"
I was very generous with my tip. Well, the price of therapy these days!
A Night With The Army
Growing up in the grey, concrete wilderness that was a Glasgow housing estate, there were two annual events which brought a little colour and spectacle to our monochrome lives.
The first was when “the carnival” arrived. Now, at this point, please don’t clutter your head with exotic images of a South American street festival. The “carnival” in Easterhouse involved a half dozen or so fun-fair rides (dodgems, watlzers etc.) and a few stalls where, for example, you could try to hook a plastic duck and win a yo-yo. Still, in relative terms, it was a spectacle. There were lots of coloured lights, loud music and the sweet smell of toffee apples and candy floss mingled with the savoury stench of hot dogs and onions.
The other big event was when The Army arrived. It was usually at the end of June or early July that a convoy of military trucks and trailers would snake its way through the streets and set up camp on the red ash playing fields at the bottom of our road. There would be tanks and artillery, walk-through caravans and organised displays. The highlight of the week involved paratroopers dropping from the sky with red smoke streaming from their heels, aiming for a target near the school rugby field. As I recall, one or two would go hopelessly adrift and end up in nearby woods…or somewhere near Carlisle.
It was a bit like the circus coming to town and, when the week was over and the line of green trucks drove away, there would be a sense of anti-climax. No wonder, then, that so many local teenagers decided to follow the circus all the way to the front line. In fact five of my six older brothers joined up and came home telling of their adventures in Bahrain, Germany, Canada and other places so far away from Easterhouse you couldn’t even get there by Corporation bus.
All of this came to mind tonight as I was driving back from Inverness in time to attend an event at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. It was organised by the Army Presentation Team and, we were told, the audience included ex military personnel, members of the media and some of Glasgow’s “opinion-formers”. This was the Army’s way of telling “their side of the story”. We were assured, however, that they were “not declaring open season on the media”.
Waiting in the foyer I met Allan Rennie, the Editor of the Sunday Mail. I shared with him my fear that we were about to be brainwashed.
“Do you think we’ll still be the same people when we come back out?”
Allan laughed but suggested that that I had maybe been watching too many episodes of Doctor Who.
This kind of event is not without its critics. Outside the Concert Hall I had been met by members of a Quaker group who were handing out pamphlets listing the questions “the army refuse to answer”. Then, as the event began, one woman sitting in the row behind me made her protest by continuing to speak at a conversational level and was eventually ejected by security guards.
The presentation itself was led by Colonel Andy Bristow who has clearly perfected his patter which included a plea that audience members sit near the front because “only the back five rows will be asked to complete the assault course”.
The Colonel and his team took us through a slick mix of slides and videos which covered everything from recruitment numbers (not being influenced by the war in Iraq) through housing for married service personnel (being improved) and worries about equipment (soldiers have always complained about their kit).
Indeed, on this last point, the Colonel had a little fun at the media’s expense. He told how, when serving in Iraq, some newspapers suggested that soldiers were running short of basics such as Mars Bars and toilet paper. This, said the Colonel, was not true and “besides, if we had run out of loo paper, we always had the newspapers…” As a finale, the Colonel went through the questions posed on the Quakers' pamphlet. He answered some of them and suggested others would have to be taken up by the Navy or Government Ministers.
I couldn’t stay for the post-presentation finger buffet. I made my way outside and down the steps of the Concert Hall where I became aware of a small crowd hiding behind a wall.
“Hello“, I said, peering around the wall and rather spoiling their plan to ambush me, “and who would you be?”
They shuffled forward. There were six or seven of them, clad in camouflage gear and wearing clown make-up. They told me they were clandestine clown army and agreed to pose for a photograph. I assumed they had been there to protest at the Army’s event but, despite further questioning, I couldn’t get any real information from them.
I was going to tell them my joke about camouflage jackets (I left mine lying in the garden and haven’t see it since) but I didn’t.
Probably just as well, really. Some of those clowns have no sense of humour.
Adventures On The A9
A gorgeous day in Inverness and I'm completely staggered by the amount of new housing here. It's almost like they are building an entire New Town on the outskirts of the old one. The production team here were telling me that this is causing a lot more traffic congestion in the city centre, but, for all that, it's still a beautiful part of Scotland.
I came up in the car last night while conducting a hands-free phone conversation with our Press Office in Glasgow. Our latest Rajar listening figures were distributed at half past five, but can't be published until seven o'clock the next morning. We appear to have gained ninety thousand listeners in the past year.
Today in the office I was fielding calls from reporters about the figures, but the various measures - share, reach, hours-per-listener - can make it a complicated story. Radio Scotland's varied schedule means we tend to focus on reach, but music stations prefer to talk about share. That's why the subsequent newspaper stories tend to be unpredictable and, in some cases, unfathomable.
I had to leave Inverness about two o'clock in the afternoon and, (shock, horror) I completely forgot to have lunch. Hunger pangs forced me off the road at Aviemore where I raided the chilled cabinet of the supermarket and then had a lonely picnic in the car. Cold chicken.
Aviemore itself is much improved these days and seems to be shaking off its repuation for concrete eyesores. There are still one or two blips, mind you, which include the public toilets on the main street. I didn't realise there was a twenty pence entrance charge and I made the big mistake of asking the attendant if she had change. She gave me a look so evil that I thought she might have mis-heard me. Perhaps she thought I had asked if she would sell me her family. It was that bad a look.
She pulled out a cash drawer which glistened with row after row of pound coins.
"As long as you don't want change of a big note."
"I've only got a fiver, " I said, feeling ashamed. She let out a sigh and again the bad look.
"You should really come prepared!" she scolded. I felt like a five year old, but she handed me the change and I put my coin in the slot and went through the turnstile.
On the way out I saw her again and, in a fit of madness, told her, truthfully, that the cubicles had run out of loo paper and - wait for it - I asked her if I could get a refund on my entrance fee! She put her hands round a mop handle and I could see she regretted not having stuck it out at the voodoo night classes. Otherwise I would have been pulling at my collar and gasping for air.
"The paper must have been stolen", she explained, spitting out the words, "by backpackers!"
Ah yes, those dirty thieving backpackers. Let's hope they don't come back this way. I mean...this is supposed to be a tourist destination.
Silver At The Sony Awards
We who work in the radio business often feel like the Cinderella service compared to the attention that's lavished on television. But not last night at the Sony Awards. It's the one night in the year when we all put on our glad rags and head to the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. It's a bit like the Oscars only without the big orchestra and, well, all the film stars. Although Dame Edna Everage put in an appearance to hand over a special award to Terry Wogan. To hoots of laughter she told the audience that, because it was a radio event, she'd put on one of her older dresses and that she could see that many of the ladies in the room had also been raiding Oxfam for their own attire.
We picked up a Silver award in the Sports Programme category and there was a heart-stopping moment when I thought I had won the station programmer award. It was John Bradford, supremo of the Radio Academy, who came on stage to make the presentation.
"I was warned that the pronunciation of this name might be almost impossible, " he said, "the winner is....Richard Park!"
Well, I spent the next hour listening to people - many of them complete strangers - telling me what a cruel and cheap joke that was and, as the drink began to flow, someone suggested we get some baseball bats and ambush Bradford when he went to the loo. Thankfully we didn't do that.
At least, I don't think we did.
But it's funny how people think it's acceptable to poke fun at Polish names in a way they would never do with Asian names.
Anyway we danced the night away and went back to our hotel and made friends with some lovely people from Real Radio. They had come away from the awards ceremony empty-handed and, in fact, Radio Clyde was the only other Scottish station to win anything.
Does it matter? Not really.
At least we all got to go to the ball.
I'm Giving Up Sugar
On Friday afternoon I got the chance to be Sir Alan Sugar. Sadly, this did not involve riding in a Rolls-Royce or buying a football club. All I had to do was sit in a room looking suitably sour-faced as five different production teams pitched me their ideas for a live music event. I wasn't allowed to smile or offer words of encouragement. No, my role was very simple: I had to find fault.
"So let me get this straight", I said to one enthusiastic producer, "you want a Radio Scotland helicopter flying from one event to another. So what happens if it's foggy?"
Then there was the trembling researcher who suggested we clear the Saturday afternoon schedule for a mobile concert on an open-top bus. All I could think of was the thousands of football fans tuning in for SPL commentary.
Now, I have to confess, I did start to enjoy myself a little too much. I was shaking my head a lot and staring at people like they just sprouted antlers. Yet, the reality of the creative culture at the BBC is that we spend a lot of time listening to ideas and suggesting, in a positive way, how they could be improved. But now and again you don't have the energy for that and it would be the easiest thing in the world to rubbish every half-baked idea and tell the person proposing it that they should consider a career change. In fact, and this is true, I have a recurring dream where I do exactly that and I always wake up feeling guilty.
My Alan Sugar finale came at the end of a day in which our music teams in Glasgow and Aberdeen came together to discuss the future of live music events. There were some practical discussions about health and safety, some ideas about how to promote and brand the events and then a brainstorming session for new ideas. That's where I came in. I got to choose the best out of five ideas and hand over a box of chocolates to the winning team. A bit of fun.
Personally I don't believe this kind of macho, ultra-negative approach achieves anything. It reminds me of they way I used to conduct job-interviews. I would peruse a candidate's application form, looking for errors or statements to be challenged. During the interview itself I would pick away at the unfortunate applicant's ideas, testing the logic of their thinking and the confidence of their presentation. Sometimes a simple question would have a devastating impact.
"So you're telling me that you would actually put this idea on the air?"
"So you don't think it's a good idea then?"
"Well yes...I mean...no..."
So what did any of this tell me about the person's suitability for the job? Almost nothing. Mainly it allowed me to find out which candidate was good at job interviews, but that's about all.
In recent years, I've changed my approach. A few days observing the candidate in real work-experience conditions tells you so much more about his or her abilities. I prefer almost any other method of selection to the standard interview panel. And if there is to be an interview I prefer to give the candidates advance warning of the questions so they can prepare meaningful answers based on their experience.
As for Sir Alan Sugar. Well, I still like the big chair and the big car, but that's about it.
Frankly, I prefer to sleep at night.
It's Like Thunder...Lightning!
This was not the best of nights to resume my Five Hundred Mile Diet.
"Strange how dark it is out there," I said to Mrs Z, as I stepped out of the front door clad in one of those flimsy jackets you usually see people wearing as they're being airlifted off Scottish mountains. The same people who think flip-flop sandals and a waterproof iPod constitute outdoor equipment. Yet I had been inspired to get back on the road after my mile-long run yesterday. Well, that and my striking resemblance to John Prescott in those photographs.
I had been walking for about five minutes when I saw the first flash of lightning and, a few moments later, heard the heavy rumble of thunder. It sounded like someone tipping masonry out of a skip. Suddenly the street lights flicked on and three screaming teenage girls came rushing past me. It wasn't raining yet, so I soldiered on up the hill trying to remember the correct advice for surviving an electrical storm. Should I shelter under a tree or try to fly a kite with a brass key tied to the string? I remembered some vague warning about not using electrical equipment. Mrs Z is a research scientist by trade so I gave her a call on the mobile. She muttered something about me not having enough sense to come in out of the rain, but I couldn't catch the rest of what she said. There was a tremendous crackle on the line.
Then it started to rain. Big walloping globules and then hailstones. I ran for cover and found myself under the canopy of a local off-licence where I was joined by two young gents who were engaged in a lively discussion about fiscal matters and the retail availability of apple-based alcohol. That is to say they were pooling their loose change and daring each other to go into the shop and buy cider. Fearing they might strike up a conversation with me, I made ready with a joke I had heard Tam Cowan tell on Off The Ball tonight. It involved a travelling circus which was struggling to make ends meet:
"So," said Tam, "the nervous circus manager calls a meeting and breaks the bad news to all the perfomers. Times are bad and I'm afraid the only people who wont lose their jobs are the Strong Man and the Knife-Thrower."
Well it made me laugh. In any case there was a lull in the downpour and I made a dash for home. My loving family were gathered at the front door.
"Take those mucky shoes off before you come into the kitchen," said Mrs Z . I knew this was her way of saying how relieved she was that I had survived exposure to the elements.
Later, I huddled on the couch with the Zedettes in a heartwarming domestic scene that resembled that bit in The Sound of Music when Julie Andrews sings about her Favourite Things. I tried to recite the words of that song but couldn't remember what was on Julie's list after "brown paper packages tied up with strings".
Was there something about cider?
On The Run
Against my better judgement, I was persuaded to run a mile this morning. Lesley Kaye, a producer on the MacAulay & Co programme sent me an e-mail two days ago about the launch of Sport Relief. The organisers hope to persuade as many people as possible to register for a mile-long run in the middle of July.
Lesley had already arranged for young mum Vicki Johnson to run around Glasgow's Botanic Gardens this morning to show how much fun it could be. Lesley thought I might be up for a spot of "national humiliation" just to prove that an unfit slob like me could do it too. I'm such a sucker for that kind of sweet-talking. I agreed.
So, there I was this morning, in my shorts and Radio Scotland t-shirt getting a crash course in warm-up techniques from fitness coach Harry Normand. Apparently, you're not supposed to do that leg-pulling thing until after the run. Instead he had us leaning on a park bench doing slow knee bends.
Then we were off, following a course that only a producer with a sadistic streak could have devised. We went down steps, through tunnels, across bridges, up steps and, finally, past a row of parked cars and into Broadcasting House. Vicki was still chatting away quite happilly while I could only make painful wheezing noises in response.
Into studio G10 where Fred MacAulay and John Beattie were co-hosting the programme and talking to Tony Currie about the joys of school sports days. I admitted to Fred that I did not have an athletic body, but he told me I was being too hard on myself.
"Because", he explained, "I'm sure Sumo wrestlers think of themselves as athletes".
Afterwards Vicki and I were congratulated by sport producer Paul Bradley who gave each of us a Sport Relief t-shirt and red sock and took some photographs.
Then - and I kid you not- he actually asked if he could have the stuff back again so he could give them to someone on Reporting Scotland. I mean, what's the world coming to when you can't keep the odd sock?
Green Thoughts Then White City
How strange to be driving across the Erskine Bridge this morning with no toll barriers at the other end. I felt a bit guilty at not having to hand over my coins to the collectors in their little booths. And even more guilty listening to Gary Robertson's callers on Morning Extra as he asked how far we're prepared to go to pursue an environmentally friendly lifestyle. One man described how he was buying a windmill and solar panels for his home. I, on the other hand, was heading for the airport where a fuel-burning, ozone munching jet would take me to Heathrow.
After my last trip to London one diary reader suggested I should travel by train instead. I investigated this and it turned out to be a more expensive option because it entailed an overnight stay. However, these green thoughts were in my mind when I reached the airport and bought a newspaper. I refused the offer of a plastic bag to go with it. Best I could do. Sorry.
I got to the BBC Media Centre at White City way too early for my meeting with the other Heads of Radio, so sauntered around the foyer looking at an exhibition of paintings, each portraying a former Director General. They all looked pretty chuffed with themselves, I have to say, and I soon turned my attention to an adjoining exhibit which told the stories of various colourful characters in the BBC's history. It was good to see a photograph of the late and much lamented Kenny McIntyre, former political correspondent for BBC Scotland. The accompanying text told how he was once refused an interview by Prime Minister John Major. As the PM walked away. Kenny had shouted after him "I hope your cricket team gets gubbed" . Major heard this, laughed and returned to give the interview.
I looked at my watch and realised I had better head up to the meeting room. This was given as room MC4 B2M1. This not-so snappy name is like a secret code, but easy to crack. You have to go to the fourth floor of the Media Centre (MC4) and then section B1 of the open plan office area and look for Meeting Room 1 (M1). Peasy. I got in the lift, pressed for level four, got out, wandered past a life-size Dalek and opened the door of the meeting room. There were two people inside the room who, judging from their startled expressions, shouldn't have been there. They apologised and made a hasty exit. The table was strewn with tea-cups and glass tumblers from a previous meeting so I made myself useful by tidying-up. This took a good five minutes and when I sat down I was still alone and beginning to suspect all was not well. Perhaps the meeting had been cancelled. Perhaps I had deliberately been told to go to the wrong room so that everyone else could gossip about me behind my back. Then I thought about the Dalek. I hadn't seen that on the fourth floor before. Hear that metallic noise? It's a penny dropping.
I raced from the first floor, back into the lift and, this time, made sure it disgorged me three floors higher. I was cheered by the site of Susan Lovell, Head of Radio Ulster, hovering outside the door of the correct meeting room. We arrived together, five minutes late, but still in time to watch the usual antics as a PowerPoint presentation was being installed.
A good meeting, chaired by the Director of Nations & Regions, Pat Loughrey. We discussed the implications of the last week's Creative Future announcements. At the risk of sounding like a man from the Stone Age, I argued that we shouldn't get carried away with new technology. I wondered aloud what we would be saying about radio if it had only just been invented.
"Just think...it's a real-time platform able to respond to events as they actually happen. You don't even have to download the programmes You just switch it on and you have immediate audio...amazing."
This got a few laughs but I might not have to worry about losing my way in the Media Centre next month. I probably wont be invited. Unless they need someone to clear the plates.
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