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.
What Lies Beneath?
A family trip to along along Loch Ness took us to Drumnadrochit and, for a £15 family ticket, a peek at the official audio-visual experience detailing the various attempts to prove or disprove the existence of a monster in the Loch.
It's an interesting exhibition, maybe a bit heavy on the science angle and it encourages visitors to appreciate the rich natural history of Loch Ness, regardless of any mythical beasties in the water.
Yet, just as your head is buzzing with scientific terminology, you walk into a bright gift shop crammed with all sort of "Nessie" merchandise. I call that having your cake and eating it.
After lunch - including cake - we journeyed on to Urquhart Castle and, for the first time, toured the official visitor centre and watched another short film about castle's stormy history. One of the centre's officials was asking vistors just how far they had travelled.
"Boston in the U.S.," exclaimed one couple, "Staffordshire in England, " said another.
Then it was my turn.
"Inverness," I said, proudly but to much guffaws from the others. I'm not sure why they found that funny but the next time I meet a New Yorker atop the Empire State building I'm going to laugh right in his face.
Jenni Means Business (Not Beanz)
Ah, you see, I had it all worked out. Jenni Minto is our business executive and should never, ever be described as a "bean-counter". So as part of my ongoing profiles of BBC Radio Scotland's unsung heroes I suggested I could take a photograph of Jenni holding a can of beans.
"No, " said Jenni, "that would be product placement and would infringe BBC guidelines. How about I hold an abacus instead?"
I agreed that was a better idea, but when Jenni arrived in Inverness today she confessed that she'd left her abacus sitting on her desk in Glasgow. A likely story and one designed to stop me taking the photograph. So I had to take this snap while we walked up Castle Street. I felt like one of those paparazzi guys who follow Kate Middleton around town.
Seriously, though, Jenni is one of our priceless assets. It took me a long time to realise that budgets are liberating and not constraining. If you know exactly how much you have to spend on a programme you can make all sorts of choices about the content.
Indeed our Get It On programme only exists thanks to Jenni. The teatime music show was originally designed as a summer filler, but it proved so popular with listeners that we had to find ways of making it a permanent part of the schedule.
It was Jenni who rejigged our budgets to make that happen. That made everyone happy.
Even Jenni was full of beans.
Producer Richard Melvin, who runs Dabster productions, is in New York at the moment, recording a series of programmes with Dean Friedman. He's the guy who sang Lucky Stars, but his series for BBC Radio Scotland will look at Friedman's life in the Hudson Valley.
While in the U.S. Richard has been writing a blog which I'm happy to recommend to you. It includes all sorts of fancy stuff, including film clips.
Do have a look.
Three Of A Kind
Good news tonight from London as three BBC Radio Scotland programmes are nomitated for the Sony Radio Academy Awards. This competition is regarded within the industry as the 'Oscars' of radio so it's great that we're up there competing with the best of the U.K. stations.
For the record, we've been nominated for music, sport and comedy. Stephen Duffy's The Jazz House is in the specialist music category. The Pain of the Game series. presented by Bryan Cooney is nominated as best sports programme and North By North North is competing in the comedy category. It featured a great ensemble cast including Lewis MacLeod.
Unlike previous years, there's a fair few nominations for other Scottish radio stations, including two for Radio Clyde and one each for Moray Firth Radio and XFM.
I was especially pleased to see a nomination for Vip on Air, the Glasgow-based radio station for blind and partially sighted listeners which BBC Radio Scotland has supported since its launch.
Alll of which means there will be a strong Scottish contingent heading for the awards ceremony in London next month.
Jo Tells Me Where To Go
Continuing my series on the unsung heroes of BBC Radio Scotland and today we're in Inverness and introducing Joanne Morrison.
Jo is my Personal Assistant. She's the one who organises my diary in such a way that I end up criss-crossing Scotland every week. Frankly I think she doesn't like seeing me sitting in the office in Inverness. My recurring conversation with Jo involves the train service to Glasgow and whether or not I have to change at Perth. One day she's going to snap and force-feed me a copy of the train timetable.
Jo joined BBC Radio Scotland six months ago, after a career that included working for Northern Constabulary. She tells that the most confusing thing about the BBC is that so many people dress casually - jeans, t-shirts - and so it's difficult to tell which person "outranks" another. I suggested we bring in a system of uniforms and stripes, but only because I've always fancied wearing a peaked hat.
On a recent trip to New York, Jo went into an Apple store in Manhattan and bought herself a personal laptop computer. Returning to Scotland she realised that she'd been charged for software that wasn't actually installed on the machine. Her subsequent tales of late night transatlantic telephone calls - and her subsquent refund - told me a lot about her haggling skils.
"Not that I'm tight-fisted!" she protests. Then again, she's the only person in this building who can get a two-for-one deal from the vending machine.
British Summer Time
The clocks went forward by one hour today which means it's officially British Summer Time. In Inverness the sun was shining and the temperature soared above 14 degrees celsius. That, of course, prompted many of us locals to discard our woolen pullovers in favour or short-sleeved shirts and purple goosebumps. I'm sure that was also this year's motif at the Paris fashion show.
On BBC Radio Scotland, however, I overheard a rather unseemly exchange between our gardening presenter Frieda Morrison and trad music guru Robbie Shepherd. The ugly details of the row need not detain us here, but suffice to say that Frieda suggested that Robbie had never used a wheelbarrow in anger. Well, you could have cut the atmosphere with a rake and I expect legal proceedings will ensue.
Meanwhile, back in the sunlit rubble of our back garden, I was instructing the Zedettes in the art of lawn-seeding. To be honest, this was not a major project. Having de-stoned a square metre patch of soil outside the back door, we sprinkled some grass seed and drenched the area with the watering can.
Now, I have no idea whether anything will actually grow on this tiny area, but I like to think we'll always remember the fun we had trying.
And maybe that's what British Summer Time is all about.
The Mystery Box
Spring cleaning the garage today I came across a cardboard box stuffed with sheets of A4 paper and this photograph of me posing beside a BBC Radio Scotland pool car. It was taken in the BBC car park in Inverness sometime in 1997.
Also in the box was an absorbing short story - partly typed, partly hand-written - about a man who goes into hospital for a gallstone operation and, when he regains consciousness, discovers he can't stop himself from singing Broadway show tunes.
There was also a gun, but this turned out to be a cigarette lighter.
I have no memory of writing the story nor of having the photograph taken. I have never smoked.
A Day Off
What a great day for a day off. The skies over Inverness were clear and blue and from the window of our front room we could see the snow-frosted mounds of Ben Wyvis and the dormant greenery of the Black Isle.
We packed the Zedettes off to school and set off for Croy. Mrz Z had heard tell of a man who does wonders with pine furniture and we wanted to have a poke around his workshop and seek his wise advice on coffee tables. We turned off the southbound A9 and followed a long single-track road until we came to a farmhouse. There we found a little room stocked with a couple of bookcases and two photo-albums depicting various bits and pieces that had been made for previous seekers of the hard stuff.
Nothing, it has to be said, took our fancy, but having come all this way it felt rude to leave quickly. Until, that is, I suggested we head back to Inverness for a slap-up lunch. Mrz Z was in the car before I could add the words "my treat" but she doesn't really need to hear me verbalise such things. She's a bit psychic.
Our spur of the moment plan was to try out a new restaurant on the banks of the Ness called The Kitchen. It's creating a bit of a stir because it's housed in a sparkling new glass and steel structure that sticks out like a new-born baby's thumb next to the closed-down bingo hall and that place that sells kilts and whisky to tourists.
But here's a tip; never approach such restaurants from the side alley that leads from the adjoining street. Such alleys are clearly the haunt of irresponsible dog-walkers who wouldn't know a Pooper Scooper if I bludgeoned them to death with one (a recurring fantasy). I had already lost my appetite by the time the waitress told us off for not having booked a table and sent us on our way.
No worries...the banks of the Ness now have more cafes and restaurants than, well, they used to have.
If only they sold coffee tables too.
The other night I sat with my eleven year old daughter and we watched Brigadoon on DVD. Doubtless you'll be familiar with the film. Gene Kelly and Van Johnson play two American tourists who discover a Highland village that only appears from the mist once in every century. Cyd Charisse is the local lassie who falls for Kelly.
Apparently the movie was filmed in a Hollywood studio because the producers came to Scotland and couldn't find a location that looked Scottish enough. Nor, it seems, were they impressed by genuine Highland accents and so the supporting cast experiment with voices that include Irish, Welsh and Esperanto.
Watching the flick at home I have to confess that we laughed, we cried, we sang and we danced. And yet, I felt a little bit guilty.
Brigadoon has become something of a by-word for an American stereotype of Scottish culture. Politicians and cultural commentators often spit out the word "Brigadoon" when they accuse others of having a "tartan and shortbread" view of Scotland.
Despite that, it's still a very popular choice of amateur dramatic societies. Yes, even here in Scotland. I reckon that it says a lot for our growing cultural confidence that we can now look on that film for what it is: a bit of fun.
I have to admit I have a soft spot for it, mainly because I remember watching it on BBC 2 the night before I made my first ever train journey to Inverness. This was about eighteen years ago and, as a true Glaswegian, I had never been further north than Dundee. The Highlands were something of a mystery and as the train travelled from Perth, through Dunkeld and then Pitlochry I could see very little of the landscape. The hills and mountains were shrouded in mist. It was eerie.
Then, somewhere south of Aviemore, the mist cleared to reveal hillsides covered in purple heather.
"Just like Brigadoon," I thought and I kept my eyes peeled for pipe bands and tartan-clad dancers.
I've yet to see them, but every time I take that journey I scan the mountainsides, just in case.
There's a smile on my face, for the whole human race, why it's almost like being in love.
La, la, la.
You know, the BBC is an organisation full of strange contradictions. Take punctuality, for instance. As programme-makers we depend on accurate time-keeping. News teams work to hourly deadlines. Studios and the communication lines between them have to be booked at the correct time. Every second counts.
But when it comes to meetings, anything goes.
Let's suppose a meeting is scheduled for 12.30. Well, that doesn't mean that everyone attending the meeting gathers in the conference room in time to start a discussion. No, 12.30 is the time that attendees sitting in offices at the other end of the building will glance at their clocks and think about heading to the meeting. Usually they will be in another meeting that is over-running because no one arrived on time. Every BBC meeting ends with one or two people standing up and apologising that they have to leave because they are "already late for another meeting".
There is only one way to sort this. We'll have to put cameras and microphones into meeting rooms and pretend they are programmes and not meetings. I'll suggest this at the next meeting.
Blast! I'm already late for that. Sorry.
No News Is Bad News
Got to Glasgow , made straight for the BBC canteen and encountered the editor of Good Morning Scotland, Stewart Easton. He was brandishing two bananas and looked like he wasn't afraid to use them. He sort of hinted that I should actually pay for his bananas.
"Will you buy me my bananas?" he asked. Well, I never said it wasn't a subtle hint. Basically he was demanding fruit with menaces and left me with no option but to stump up the cash. He owes me big time.
Then we went upstairs to a conference room to hear the results of some focus group research on various news programmes, including Good Morning Scotland. Some groups of listeners in the survey had actually been filmed and it was interesting to see and hear them debate the strengths and weaknesses of our output. It was also interesting to hear how so many people now get their news from the BBC's online services.
As ever there was some debate over the definition of a Scottish story compared to a "local" story. One listener defined localness as being within a fifty mile radius of his home. Others talked about news stories as having personal relevance to their lives.
I came away thinking we have to do more to promote the local BBC bulletins that are available in areas such as the Highlands and the Borders. Trouble is, those bulletins aren't available on digital platforms such as DAB and Freeview, although you can hear them online.
After the formal presentation I was approached by Our-Man-In-Aberdeen Sandy Bremner. He had actually attended some of the focus group sessions and described them as "more stimulating than...."
No. I better not tell you what he said next. Be assured, it had nothing to do with bananas.
Maybe It's Cold Outside
Sometimes I find myself shaking my fist at the radio and yelling "somebody ought to do something about that!". Then I remember that the "somebody" in question is probably me.
Take this morning for instance. We drew back the curtains to see the rooftops of Inverness caked in snow and the flash of amber lights as snow ploughs and gritters patrolled the streets. My mobile phone beeped as a series of text messages told me that various members of staff were struggling to make it in to work. The roads were bad in Inverness, but the surrounding towns and villages were like ski slopes.
It was time for action. I grabbed my big plastic shovel and cleared the drive, making sure I knocked the snow off the roof of the car in such a way that most of it went down my shirt. Hey, it's not as easy as it sounds.
Feeling like I'd done a Man's Job I made it into the office in time to hear the start of MacAulay & Co. It's produced in Glasgow, in a centrally heated studio. I'm sure they also hand out warm soup and buttered crumpets, but I might be making that up. That's what came to mind when I heard Fred's sidekick, Julia Sutherland say:
"Oh we were hoping for snow, but it's a lovely day here in Glasgow!"
As I say, somebody ought to do something about that. But not me. I have a shirt to dry.
Mrs Z. Revealed
From time to time the things I write about in this diary prompt a few hostile comments. These come in the form of e-mails, phone calls and letters wrapped around bricks. That's why I keep moving around the country.
I'm happy to say that actual threats of violence are few and far between, unless you count that bloke who promised to slap me silly the next time he sees me in the street. But that's all part of the BBC's new performance management system and I'm taking that up with the union.
No, most of the offline comments I receive concern my references to Mrs Z and the Zedettes. While there's appeciation that I must guard the identity of my children - in case they sue me in later life - many of you ask why I don't see fit to refer to my wife by her first name. A few others demand photographic proof that I am actually married. Given that I've published more than a few photographs of myself, I can see why people might suspect I am single.
Well, it's Mother's Day and I've decided to inch slowly towards revealing Mrs Z's true identity. The following visual representation adorned the card she received from the Zedettes this morning. It's a masterpiece of felt-tip pen and stickers, and I think it does her justice.
Wow..that last brick almost hit me.
Red Face Day
My walk through the beautiful cobbled streets of Kelso yesterday brought back memories of my first few weeks working for BBC Radio Scotland. Let me take you back to November 1993 and ask you to imagine me as a fresh-faced (slimmer) reporter straight off the newsdesk of a commercial radio station in Glasgow.
As Senior Producer for the BBC in Selkirk I discover that my first duty is to attend an accordion concert at the Tait Hall in Kelso. This has been organised to raise funds for the BBC's Children In Need charity and all I have to do is walk on to the stage at the end of the night and thank everyone involved.
Couldn't be easier eh? In fact I'm so confident in my abilities that I ask Mrz Z to come along and sit in the audience to watch my moment of triumph.
The concert goes really well and, as it draws to a close, the compere Bill Torrance invites me on to the stage with the following words:
"And now Jeff Zycinski from BBC Scotland is here to say a few words and indeed to lead us all in a rendition of 'we're no awa' to bide awa'".
Now, let's suppose I could carry a tune and let's suppose I actually know all the words to any songs. Well...that aint one of them.
So, I'm walking across the stage, the applause fading and an entire accordion orchestra waiting to support my vocals. Of course I know the first line of that song - who doesn't? - but what will I do after that?
"Oh we're no awa' tae bide awa'...we're no awa' tae leave you..."
Then I have a brilliant idea. I'll attack the audience!
"Come on everyone...sing along...you can do better than that."
And so I spend my remaining minutes on the stage, flapping my hands in the air as if conducting a huge choir.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
In the middle of that audience I could see one woman pointing at me and laughing. In fact, she was still laughing a week later.
My wife, of course.
Kelso On A High
From Glasgow to Kelso by way of a motel at Dreghorn junction where I spent the night. All so I could get to Kelso High School bright and early in time to act as an international observer of the big referendum on independence.
You may recall that the school broke free of the United Kingdom three weeks ago, as part of a project linked to the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. They've since launched their own currency, have their own national anthem and the free flag of Kelso High has been flying proudly in front of the main entrance. The small nation may also get its own listing in the Lonely Planet guide.
Today the pupils and staff got the chance to decide their own destiny. Polling booths were set up in the school hall and a special hustings meeting allowed
everyone to hear the arguments for or against further independence. The school, it turned out, had discovered a gas pipeline during recent building works and this was hailed as a potential revenue stream for the free nation. Unless, that is, someone turns off the supply.
The Rector, Charlie Robertson, oversaw the whole day with the kind of calm authority that makes him a fitting candidate for future Presidency. Producer David Stenhouse had arranged an special "results" programme to be piped into the playground. It was chaired by political broadcaster Ian Macwhirter.... and Professor John Curtice arrived from Strathclyde University to analyse the trends of recent opinion polls.
Then came the count, the result and the dramatic declaration. By this time a television crew had arrived to capture the moment of history. The school had voted overwhelmingly to retain their independence.
"The flag of Free Kelsie continues to fly, " proclaimed the Rector and Father of the Nation.
All very well...but just fifteen minutes later we heard reports that some fifth year pupils were planning to overthrow their leader in a coup.
Fragile thing, democracy.
You can hear more about the schools experiment with politics in the programme Passport To Kelso on Sunday 25th March at 11.05 am.
Right On Schedule
Finally today, some more unsung heroes of BBC Radio Scotland and a chance to introduce the commissioning and scheduling team. Linda Atkinson, Nadine Arshad and Kevin Cavanagh are the people who make sure that we actually have enough programmes to fill our transmission hours. They also have to get that information out to everyone who needs to know, including the newspaers, listings magazines and the company that provides the on-screen information on digital television.
All three work on different timescales. Linda looks after the schedule for the entire year and starts her planning as soon as we decide to commission a particular programme. Nadine chairs the weekly planning meetings a provides a useful grid of our schedule for the next six weeks. Kevin has to share all that information throughout the station and externally. He also provides a daily information sheet which allows our presenters to tell you what else is happening on the station.
So, when you hear Gary Robertson tell you the theme of Bryan Burnett's programme, he's using the information sheet supplied by Kevin.
My job is to make everyone's life difficult by making last-minute schedule changes or by deciding to postpone a particular programme or series. I'm sure they all have little dolls made in my image and a big box of pins.
When It Comes To The Crunch
The audience research team have been at pains to tell me that they are much more than "number crunchers". They actually spend a lot of the time meeting real listeners and viewers at focus group sessions and public meetings. They were a bit less forthcoming when I asked if I could take a group photograph as part of my ongoing efforts to tell you about the people behind the scenes at BBC Radio Scotland.
"Can we have five minutes to put some lippy on?" asked Aileen Naismith. I told them they could have fifteen minutes. Er....not that they needed it, of course. Gosh... it's a minefield this photography lark.
Meanwhile let me tell you what these guys do with their time. Lesley Farquharson is the boss, Aileen is the specialist on radio data and Stuart Martin is the senior research executive who, when I popped into the office, was trawling through the various comments that had been made by viewers who'd watched BBC Scotland's Hogmanay show on television.
"It's the honesty of our audience I love, " said Stuart, "they're not precious about telling you what they think."
Lesley explained the difference between radio and television research. Television producers get figures every night, telling them how many people have watched a particular show. In radio we get figures every three months. Lesley thought this allowed radio producers to focus on trends and not be rattled by the immediate reaction to a new programme.
In the photograph Lesley is holding a Rajar diary. This little booklet, which reminded me of a football pools coupon, is what listeners in a survey are asked to complete. They tick a box for every radio station they have listened to throughout the course of a week. The final data is compiled into the blue book that Aileen is holiding in the photograph.
Stuart is the one holding the calculator. Well...someone has to crunch the numbers!
Beyond Our Ken
At our weekly planning meeting in Glasgow this morning someone suggested we profile the work of our 'man of a thousand voices' Ken Lindsay. Ken is the senior trails producer for BBC Radio Scotland and, every week, he makes five 30 or 60 second "adverts" to promote various new programmes. We decide which ones to prioritise at our Wednesday meeting.
I thought it was a good idea to tell you about Ken and, indeed, the other unsung heroes of the station.
"I'll pop into you studio this afternoon, " I told him, "and I'll bring my camera."
Well, I was as good as my word, although Ken did try to put me off by saying he was just about to record some material with the actor David Hayman. I shrugged this aside, promising I'd be as quick as possible.
In the studio Ken let me hear the trail he'd just finished for our Passport To Kelso programme. He's used audio from the schoolchildren's declaration of independence, mixed that with some Braveheart-esque music and the voice-over is his own.
Ken explained that, as a former announcer, he often uses his own voice, but the majority of trails feature fellow announcers or actors who've been brought in to add a special touch of drama or emotion. At other times he'll go through a bank of voices that come from the dozens of demo CD's he gets sent every year.
"It's not as easy as it sounds, " he warns, "and it's not just about having a nice voice."
Ken's next challenge is a trail - not for a radio programme - but for the relaunch of the BBC Radio Scotland website. He's mulling over a few ideas including a spoof of those telly adverts for Heat magazine.
All be revealed soon, so keep your ears open.
The Headmaster's Secret
The Audience Council meeting in Peebles had invited Charlie Robertson to tell them about the SoundTown experience. He's the headmaster of Kelso High School, the current SoundTown school.
He spoke with great passion and enthusiasm about the project and described how so many of his pupils had become involved with BBC Radio Scotland. Some had spoken on programmes such as Out of Doors of The Radio Cafe, other had been busy, behind the scenes, learning about the technical side of broadcasting.
I'll be seeing Charlie again on Thursday when we hear the result of the school's referendum on independence. He actually told us a huge secret that's bound to swing the final vote.
Obviously I'm keeping mum, but trust me...it's a gas.
Performing In Peebles
This morning found me in the conference room of a fairly posh hotel just outside Peebles. It was the annual conference of the new Audience Council, the body that's taken over from the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. It's the council's job to monitor BBC Scotland's output and represent the interests of viewers, listeners and online users.
Now, maybe I've been watching too many episodes of Fame Academy, but in the middle of my presentation about last year's radio output, I suddenly felt like I was performing in front of a panel of judges. I wont name names, but one of the council members began to take on the appearance of Richard Park. Well, it had been a long drive from Inverness and I'd maybe had too much coffee.
Luckily I'd had a haircut and had bought a new shirt and tie, but I began to wish I was wearling a spangly jacket and straw hat. I should have put a bit more rehearsal into my 'turn'. True I had a Powerpoint presentation, but no props. Curses! If only I thought to have brought my puppets.
Then the mist began to clear and I was back in the hotel conference room. There were some nice words of congratulation for our various programmes and one council member actually described me as "a star".
Obviously he'd been having the same hallucination. I must find out what kind of coffee they serve.
The Book I've Yet To Finish
The producer of our new Book Cafe programme, Victoria McArthur, called to ask if there was a particular book I've have trouble finishing. I mentally scanned the volumes on my home bookshelf and remembered that dog-eared paperback edition of Ulysses. It seems, according to a survey that's all over today's newspapers, that I'm not alone in selecting that James Joyce tome.
Yet here's a thing: why don't I just chuck it? Why have I ferried that book from house to house since I was about sixteen years old? Why do I let it sit on the shelf haunting me, taunting me and making me feel guilty?
It's time to deal with it. I'm going to sort through those books and take a pile of them to the Oxfam shop in Inverness.
Mind you, it's not just James Joyce I have trouble with. For many years I've been drawn to novels of Stephen King. I probably buy one every year, just to take with me on holiday. His stories usually involve some kind of demonic possession of, say, a car, a dog, a shop, a house, a lawnmower... The story-telling is such that I'm usually drawn in to the first five or six chapters but somehow, somewhere along the way, I lose all interest in the characters and couldn't care less if they end up spending an enternity in the service of Satan.
I mean, I used to work for commercial radio and nothing else ever seems quite so awful.
Hmmm...a demonically possessed radio station....now there's an idea!
Shower Radio Scandal
At the risk of being drawn into the competition controversy surrounding the television industry, I'm afraid I have to come clean about those shower radios I promised three diary readers recently.
Having placed an order for a couple of boxes of said radios - and having been given a guaranteed delivery date - I offered to hand them over to those kind souls who left comments on this web-page.
Alas, when the radio arrived, they didn't live up to expectations. Yes, they had been branded with the BBC Radio Scotland logo and frequency information, but you'd have needed a BBC branded magnifying glass to see that.
So, we packed them up and sent them back to the manufacturers. This also put paid paid to my plan to have various BBC Radio Scotland presenters pose with them in their own showers. I suggested that to one or two of them, but they threatened to report me to the H.R. department.
So...no shower radios, but I will come up with an alternative to those readers who were promised a prize. All suggestions welcome.
For Fred's Sake
I could hardly bear to watch as Fred MacAulay fought for his place in the Comic Relief Fame Academy tonight. He was saved - not by the judges or fellow Scot Richard Park - but by the majority vote of fellow Academy students.
The whole thing looked barbaric. It reminded me of my schooldays when the two best footballers would pick their team from fellow classmates and I'd be left as the one that no one wanted. Gosh, I thought I had erased that from my memory but it all came flooding back tonight.
Yet Fred's actual perfomance was pretty good. His rendition of Living Doll had a spark about it and you have to admire any husband who sings live on network television with his wife watching from the wings. He even pointed to her at one point indicating that she was the Living Doll is his life. Awww.
Then I worked it out: there was the big Rangers UEFA game on BBC 2 tonight.
Half of Scotland wouldn't even have been watching Fred, let alone calling the Fame Academy line to vote for him.
Please, please tune in tomorrow night and don't put him through that ordeal again.
I can't cope with the trauma.
Time Warp Hotel
I don't ask much from a hotel, I really don't. A bed, a shower and some heating - nothing more. Last night in Glasgow I had one out of three. I was staying in a little bed & breakfast place about five minutes walk from the BBC. The entrance hall gave every indication that this was a place for international men of mystery such as myself. That is to say it had three bog-standard kitchen clocks on the wall so that you could tell what time of day it is in New York, Tokyo and London.
London? Last time I checked Glasgow and London were both in the same time-zone.
But it all became clear when I climbed the stairs to my attic bedrooom and opened the door. This turned out to be a portal into a completely different time-zone. The early 1970's I think it was.
No central heating. Just one of those oil filled electric heaters that looks like a concrete accordion on wheels. Another door led into a shower cabinet that did everything except provide a constant flow of warm water. But there was a bed. I remember seeing it just before I crashed my head on a roof-beam and fell into it.
And also colour television. Just the one colour, mind you. Red. All over the screen.
As I say, I don't ask much. I can't say the same for those guys from New York and Tokyo.
We've started experimenting with some audio slideshows to accompany some of our radio programmes. Have a look at the Beechgrove Potting Shed page and let me know what you think.
We've had a few glitches with some of the links, but hopefully they'll be sorted out by the time next Sunday's programme goes on air.
It does throw up a few questions about the power of the picture to enhance or distract from the audio. Personally I think the photographs of particular flowers and plants work best, because they give you a useful visual illustration of what's being talked about.
I'm not so sure about the photographs of Frieda Morrison holding the microphone. Perhaps we're destroying the magic of radio here.
Thoughts and comments very welcome.
Laura's Little Secret
If you get the chance, do tell me what you think of our new music show Blackstreet. It's presented by Laura McCrum who I first met many years ago when she joined BBC Radio Scotland's production training scheme. She later made a programme in which she journeyed to her family home in Kenya and weighed up the pros and cons of staying there or returning to Scotland.
But Laura has a big secret that I'm prepared to blab about. She's also something of a stand-up comedian. I can remember her telling me about her very first gig in a Glasgow pub. It still sends shivers through me.
Oh and you may have noticed that we made a subtle change to the name of Laura's programme. It was originally entitled Black Street, but it was our very own Tom Morton who alerted me to a problem with this. Black Street in Glasgow was famous as the location of a clinic for treating sexually transmitted diseases. Tom thought some of our less enlightened listeners might snigger at the title.
Not so much catchy as catching.
So Blackstreet it is...makes all the difference on radio..
As for Tom, well, he's currently rekindling his passion for whisky. Not when he's on air, of course, but do check out his new blog. It's a corker.
Bagpipe Lover In Mexico
The other day I was telling you about my new wifi internet radio and how it allows you to listen to stations from around the world. Well, here's a twist on that. BBC Radio 4's Feedback programme ran an item about the growing popularity of internet radio and tracked down a listener in Mexico who tunes to BBC Radio Scotland because he loves bagpipe music.
I tell you, the digital world is geting smaller all the time.
A flying visit to Aberdeen this morning and just time for a staff meeting and a brief conversation with Frieda Morrison about Gardening Scotland. Then my plan was to catch the quarter past one train back to Inverness and use the journey time to complete my report for the new Audience Council.
Trouble was, it was such a beautiful day in Aberdeen that I decided to walk from Beechgrove Terrace to the train station. I arrived exactly one minute after the train had departed.
Oh well..I.such is life. retired to a coffee shop just off Union Street, pulled out my laptop and got to work on the report. It's at times like these that I realise I don't really need an office at all. I could work from any one of the coffee shops or burger bars that now boast a broadband connection.
Just think what that would do for my diet.
Zombies In The Moonlight
Last week, when my home broadband connection was restored (hooray!) I splashed out on a WiFi internet radio. It's a big beast of a set and allows you to connect with about four thousand internet radio stations around the world. For an anorak like me - who grew up listening to Short Wave stations - this is like a dream come true. You just select a particular country and then choose from an alphabetic list of stations. This weekend, for instance, I've been tuned to a station in America that only plays songs from Broadway musicals.
Best of all is how it behaves when you tune to a BBC station such as, well, BBC Radio Scotland. It offers you the live output as well as a chance to choose from all the programmes that are available "On Demand". I've been listening to last week's output from Orkney and Shetland and very good it is too. Yes, I know you can do this on your PC, but there's something so much more convenient about listening through a box that actually resembles a radio set. Call me old-fashioned, but that's how I feel. Stop looking at me like that!
So, this morning, the Zedettes came into the room while I was tuned to WABC in New York and a phone-in show about UFOs. A woman called in to describe her own encounter with aliens. Apparently they caused her car to break down for two minutes but, by the time it had restarted, a whole two hours of life was missing. The show's host suggested she try regression hypnosis to find out what horrible things might have happened to her in those missing hours.
I could see that the Zedettes were intrigued by this just as they had been by last night's lunar eclipse, which we had all watched from a bedroom window. They had demanded a rational scientific explanation for the moon's gradual disappearance. I had been able to supply this thanks to a handy article in Friday's Inverness Courier.
Trouble was, as we gazed at the sky, were we continually distracted by a light going on and off in the house across the street. This seemed to spook the children more than the lunar event itself. So, this morning, with a nod to Sherlock Holmes, I encouraged my offspring to search for logical explanations when they encounter anything that seems supernatural or magical.
"So, if a door opens in the night...?"
"Probably the wind." the chorused
"and if a woman loses two hours of her life..?"
"she probably fell asleep."
This moment of parental wisdom seemed to be going well. I decided to push my luck.
"And last night...during the eclipse...that light going on and off in the house across the street. What do you think caused that?"
They didn't hesiate. Not for an instant.
"Probably zombies," they decided.
I only hope they're wrong.
So there we were, the four of us, watching Inverness Caley slug it out against Dundee United while a chill wind howled around us and our thoughts turned more to the delights of the pie stall than anything that was happening on the pitch. Mrs Z and the Zedettes huddled together for warmth while I fiddled with the earphones on my little FM radio.
Jim Spence was providing the commentary for BBC Radio Scotland and he was trying really hard to stay positive. At times there was so little in the way of "goalmouth action" that Jim started speculating on the geographic origin of the away fans. "They don't all hail from Dundee, " he assured us, "many of them come from the wider Tayside area."
Meanwhile some of the home fans were voicing their frustration. As the Caley forwards punted the ball to non-existent team-mates, one man sitting behind me got to his feet, shouted "disgraceful!" and made for the exit. Not that the players were aware of this, although I began to imagine what would happen if they had spotted him. Perhaps they could have asked the referee to pause the game for a moment while they followed the disgruntled supporter to his car and pleaded with him to return.
Anyway, more fool him. Two minutes into stoppage time and with just ten seconds before the final whistle, there was a blur of bodies in front of the Dundee United keeper and suddenly the ball was in the net and we were all on our feet cheering. We'd won!
Of course, none of us ever doubted it.
In the office in Inverness early this morning to take a call from our producer Alice Jenner in Malawi. She - together with colleagues Phil Wells and Laura Maxwell - have been out there since the start of the week. They've been staging a series of radio training worshops for local broadcasters as well as reporting back through various BBC Radio Scotland programmes.
Laura linked up with Scotland Live this afternoon and I was moved by her descriptions of child poverty on the streets of Blantyre. Many of the children are orphans who parents have fallen victims to HIV and AIDS. They scrape by on the equivalent of ten pence a week and earn money by trapping and selling mice.
But that's not the complete story. Malawi is also trying to market itself as a tourist destination and that angle will be pursued by Out of Doors tomorrow morning. Laura will be talking to Euan McIlwraith about this. Euan has also been to Malawi and described the landscape as "magical" with Hippos and Elephants a common sight outside the towns.
The call from Alice this morning concerned our future plans to work with radio stations in Malawi. We're trying to develop a twinning arrangement to build on the links we've forged thus far.
Alice asked me what she should be saying in her farewell statement. I suggested she make it as Scottish as possible.
"How about saying we're no awa' to bide awa?" I offered.
Well, it was just a thought.
The Crying Scotsman
The GNER service from Edinburgh to Inverness got as far as Pitlochry last night when the rear engine stalled and wouldn't restart. We were told to "sit tight" until alternative arrangements could be made. I did just that. Until, that is, one of the train staff appeared on the platform, rapped his fist on the window and indicated with his thumb that I should join the other passengers in the moonlight. The only other person in my carriage was a young Japanese bloke and I had a bit of trouble explaining the situation to him. Mainly because he was reluctant to remove his iPod earphones.
So there we were, about forty people, shivering on the platform. We were told that the station facilities were closed but, not to worry, because the First Scotrail service would be along in "about ten minutes". Our crippled train then trundled slowly away into the darkness. Ten minutes later we were still on the platform. Twenty minutes later it was the same. After half an hour I could sense that the mood was turning ugly. These were no longer stranded passengers. This was a mob. It was time for leadership. Someone had to take charge.
But not me.
The woman standing next to me cleared her throat.
"Can I have your attention!" she announced, and there was immediate silence. She then explained in a clear calm voice that we were all now entitled to compensation. She urged us to retain our tickets and held out a copy of the form we would need to fill in if we wanted to see any money refunded. She observed that the train staff hadn't volunteered this information, nor had they seen fit to distribute copies of the forms.
Clearly this was a seasoned traveller and when she had finished her speech we all gave her a round of applause.
The First Scotrail train arrived twenty minutes later and, four and a half hours after I'd left Edinburgh I finally reached Inverness.
That's the same time that GNER say they can take you from Edinburgh to London. The route of the famous Flying Scotsman, they call it.
Ha Ha Ha.
Colin Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory
I joined the Sardine Set in a packed train from Glasgow to Edinburgh last night, in time to meet fellow radio anorak and former rival Colin Paterson. The plan was to have dinner and catch-up on industry gossip, but it turned into something of a celebration. Colin, who stepped down as the programme controller of Talk 107 a few months ago, has just secured a new job with a commercial music station in Northampton.
So there we were in a candle-lit restaurant in George Street, clinking glasses and working our way through two rib-eye steaks and an enormous basket of chips. Suddenly I had a bit of a hot flush and looked down to see that the greasy serviette under the chips had caught light from the candle. I tried to smother the blaze with my napkin, but found I was just fanning the flames. Soon we had a small inferno in front of us.
Colin, it has to be said, just stared at me throughout this incident. Clearly he was frozen with fear. Either that or he wanted to know if I was flammable. The restaurant staff just looked over at our table with bored expressions. I was about to call 999 when the fire dwindled to an orange glow and a cloud of smoke billowed from the basket.
The waitress was a little quicker to react when, after coffee, Colin deposited a paltry collection of coins on his side plate. This was his idea of a tip, but the waitress - who was Spanish - didn't agree.
"and what ees this?" she asked, pointing at the cash in a way that suggested she was unfamiliar with such small denominations of currency. Red-faced again we had to add more coins to the collection until the waitress was happy enough to remove the plate.
Oh aye, we're a tough lot us radio guys.
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