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.
I had a six o'clock appointment tonight with John MacDonald at Sunny Govan Radio. He's making a programme about the history of radio in Glasgow and wanted to record my memories of Radio Clyde and East End Radio. But he told me that he didn't need me to talk about BBC Radio Scotland because that would be covered by my colleague Tony Currie. I might have known!
Sunny Govan Radio is housed in a series of one storey buildings just a five minute walk away from the BBC H.Q. at Pacific Quay. At the moment they're having to endure some noisy demolition work on the adjacent site...all part of the continued redevelopment of Govan.
John told me the noise caused them particular problems because they don't have sound-proof studios. But it just goes to show you don't really need state of the art equipment to get a radio station on the air. The main asset is the goodwill of the local community and Sunny Govan Radio seems to have plenty of that.
As for the interview, well, I shared one memory being a Radio Clyde listener as a teenager in the 1970's. The station held a festive open day in a car park next to their old studios as Anderston Cross. It was a bitterly cold day in December, but there must have been thousands of people in that car park, all desperate to get a look at the disc jockeys.
I also rememebered that when Tiger Tim Stevens took the stage, the crowd went wild...and then Tim turned his back on the audience and scratched his bum.
You really have to know your listeners well to get away with that, especially in Glasgow.
Back To Work
Holidays over, back to work this morning. Actually I had to come into the office last night to cart away about a dozen boxes of files, tapes, CD's and equipment.
I'm officially turfed out of my office tomorrow as the refurbishment work of our Inverness building continues.
As ever, when clearing out, I came across a few keepsakes from the past, including this very moody photograph of Tom Morton.
It was a staged publicity shot taken in 1996, just before we produced a week of live programmes from Hollywood. He's usually quite jolly, you know. Then I came across an old VHS tape of material that we had actually filmed in a Santa Monica cafe. It captures the very moment when I broke my diet and started to pile on the pounds. History.
Today, I got a chance to look at the two tiers of temporary accommodation that's been built in the Inverness car park. There's no official space for me in there, so I'll be spending the next eight months or so either working from home or at other BBC centres around Scotland.
I just hope they remember to let me back in the building when it's finished.
Went ten-pin bowling in Inverness today and was soundly beaten by my ten year old son. Well, who can concentrate when you're wearing those awful red and black shoes they give you?
What exactly is the point of those shoes?
Party On Loch Ness
Back on the water again today as I joined a friend's 40th birthday party on board one of those Jacobite Cruisers on Loch Ness. The rain stayed off and it was a chance to contrast this trip with my recent boating experiences on Windermere.
Loch Ness is so quiet and still compared to the holiday bustle of Windermere. We ever saw on Osprey take flight from the shore.
No monsters in sight...well, the serious drinking didn't start until much later.
The Mad Scientist
Who needs Disneyland when right here in Scotland there’s a family fun park based on the theme of timber? I’m talking about the Landmark centre at Carrbridge which is where the Zed family headed this morning. We took the precaution of wearing those checked shirts favoured by lumberjacks, but there was no strict dress code. Instead we found all manner of woodland entertainment. You want ropes? They got ‘em. Squirrels? Take your pick. More ropes? Yes siree.
Then, in a little block set aside from the main park, there was Microworld. A walk-through exhibit dedicated to the wonders of magnification. Who knew that pubic lice had such big claws? Not me, I assure you. I was asking that question for a friend.
But this unexpected exposure to educational information reminded me of my childhood ambition to become a scientist. It’s true: while every other boy in primary 5 boasted of their Subutteo sets and Battling Tops, my toy box contained a microscope, a telescope and a Thomas Salter chemistry set. Given just a little encouragement I’m sure I could have discovered a cure for cancer, spotted life on Mars or else cracked that pesky cold fusion conundrum. Modesty prevents me from suggesting I could have done all three...but if Santa had brought me that lab coat for Christmas…who knows?
But it all went wrong. Something made me turn my back on science. What was it?
I blame global warming. Sorry, that’s the default setting on this Word template. I meant to say I blame my Secondary school chemistry and physics classes. They took the fun out of science for me. Not right away, mind you. There was the explosive potassium into water experiment which had us all cowering under our desks. And touching the shiny globe of that Van der Graff generator has inspired every hairstyle I’ve had since.
But the rest of it was just number-crunching. It was all formulas and equations without even the odd stink-bomb to relieve the monotony.
The postscript to this story is that two decades later I fell in love with a beautiful young scientist who was researching ways to make peas grow in desert conditions. I married her and we’ve just celebrated fourteen happy years together.
And she still looks cute in a lab coat.
The Angry Version
I love hearing behind-the-scenes stories of famous songs and I heard a good one today. I was twiddling the knob on my internet radio when I found myself listening to a programme being syndicated by the American network NPR. It was a phone-in show coming live from Detroit and was all about the power of the unions in the car manufacturing industry.
No hold on, I'm getting to the good part...just give me a minute.
You see, just when my beating heart could take no more, they wound up the discussion and announced that the next section of the programme would feature an interview with Martha Reeves, the famed Motown singer. It turns out she's now a local politician in Detroit but nobody really wanted to hear about that. Instead she was asked about her music career and about her 1964 version of Dancing In The Streets.
Go on, take a moment to hum it to yourself and then I'll continue.
Right...now when Dancing in the Streets was offered to Martha and the Vandellas, fellow performer (and the song's co-writer) Marvin Gaye suggested it should be sung as a slow love ballad. But Martha had just returned from a trip to Rio and said her head was full of thoughts of street carnivals. So she went into the studio and gave it laldy in that kind of upbeat style...happy, joyous, carefree.
Alas the studio engineer forgot to press a few buttons and that version wasn't recorded. Apparently Martha was furious and so, in the next take, she couldn't disguise the anger in her voice.
And that was the version that was used...the one we've all heard played on the radio a thousand times.
But next time you do hear it...listen for the anger.
A Wake-Up Call
Does anyone else have strange dreams when they are on holiday? Mine have involved various BBC senior managers and their paid henchmen. One of them chased me through the streets of Inverness and threatened to steal my car if I slept through any more Powerpoint presentations. Mrs. Z takes a dim view of these duvet-ruffling night terrors and cites it as proof that I have not stopped thinking about work. So today she banned me from listening to BBC Radio Scotland and set me the task of assembling a chest of drawers from IKEA.
I love the instruction booklets you get with self-assembly furniture. It’s all explained in little cartoons. I especially like the cartoon on page 2 which shows a confused customer opening his carton of woodchip planks and then phoning the store for advice on what the heck to do next. I spent a good half hour fantasising about what would happen if you actually made such a call.
ME: Hello…is that the helpine?
HELPLINE GIRL: Yes…but I told you never to call me here.
HELPLINE GIRL: Sorry…I thought you were someone else. Do you have a problem with our self-assembly furniture or have you eaten too many meatballs?
ME: It’s the furniture…I’ve just opened the box and there’s a big problem.
HELPLINE GIRL: Don’t tell me…you’re no good with a screwdriver?
ME: No, it’s not that…I’m sure I could put these drawers together eventually…I mean it might take me half a day and I’d probably have to get a hacksaw to cut off those screws that I forced in at a funny angle.
HELPLINE GIRL: I’m not sure I see what you’re getting at.
ME: It’s just that the whole exercise seems futile. Life is too short for this kind of thing. I should be out experiencing the joys of nature or enjoying stimulating conversation with an old friend
HELPLINE GIRL: I’m sorry but we’re not authorised to offer existential advice.
ME: Fair enough. In that case, can you send me some free meatballs?
HELPLINE: I knew it was you! I told you never to call me here.
That Harry Potter...You Can Read Him Like A Book
I think most of us would agree that there hasn't been nearly enough on the radio, TV or in the newspapers about Harry Potter. That's why I have decided to remedy matters with this post. I feel it's my duty to promote obscure art forms and help widen the appreciation of little-known authors.
Well the truth is that those Harry Potter books have been part of Zed family life for almost a decade and I'm sure I'm one of many thousands of Dads who honed their acting skills reading them aloud to their children. Although I say it myself, I think I managed to create a pretty good Dumbledore...a passable Snape and a Hagrid who, well, to be honest , was sometimes Cornish and sometimes Irish. In their younger years the Zedettes didn't notice these continuity errors, but now they're much more critical.
Of course, they're both capable of reading The Deathy Hallows themselves in a couple of past-bedtime sittings, but we decided to maintain the reading aloud sessions for old times sake. I was barely into chapter one when they started to critique my Voldemort voice. It's been so long since we read the last Harry Potter book that my repetoire had gone rusty.
But then yesterday we went to see the movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and I was quietly satisfied that my Luna Lovegood voice was just as good as that of the young actress who portrayed her. Frankly I'm surprised I didn't get that call-back from Warner Bros.
Yet now that the last book has been published, I expect there wont be any more reasons for the Zedettes to call on my Jackanory-style reading skills. But it was fun while it lasted.
Thank you J.K. Rowling...whoever you are.
But It's So Much Nicer, Yes It's Oh So Nice To Wander Back.
Home. Set off from Windermere at ten o'clock this morning and we were back in Inverness at half past two. Grey skies as we left the Lake District but shirt-sleeve sunny in Inverness. Smug as a bug in a rug.
But I shall miss my evening strolls to the Grey Walls Hotel - one of only two wi-fi locations in Windermere village. I was starting to get on very friendly terms with the bar staff and fellow drinkers. One chap, watching me tap away on my laptop, was convinced I was some kind of stock-broker trading on the international markets.
I explained that I knew nothing about high finance although I once considered buying shares in Dyno-Rod until I realised it would be money down the drain.
Is that the time?
Another Fine Mess
I don't have too much to say about Ulverston, except that we circled the town three times looking for a parking space. I would also like to come clean about the evil thoughts I had about that elderly gent in the Jaguar who demonstrated the fine art of the three-point-turn in thirty-seven points. Yes, I did secretly wish for his foot to slip off the clutch when that bin lorry came past, but I didn't really mean it.
Nor do I want to detain you with my critique of the organic, vegetarian tea-room where diners were invited to "enjoy additional seating upstairs" but on condition that no waiting staff would appear until the Autumn.
Instead I'll recommend the Laurel & Hardy museum which I explored on my own when the Zedettes responded to the names Laurel & Hardy with blank expressions. I mean, what are they teaching in schools these days!
The museum (£3 entry fee) is housed in the dank and claustrophobic childhood home of Stan Laurel himself and, on first sight, looks like an untidy collection of yellowed newspaper cuttings and bric-a-brac.Yet each item told a story and, in an adjoining room they have bolted some old cinema seats to the floor and you can watch old Laurel & Hardy movies on a big plasma screen.
The museum seemed to have been the life's work of one devoted fan who died some years ago. To that extent it had there was an air of sadness about the place which doesn't square with the slapstick comedy of Stan & Ollie. It's crying out for some proper investment and, come to think of it, a radio series.
It seems that Stan Laurel was a prolific letter writer and prided himself on responding personally to every fan. I'm not sure is those letters - some of which are on display in the museum - have ever been collated and made into any kind of programme.
But it would be a great listen.
We're Going To Need A Bigger Boat
A long, long time ago, when I worked the weekend shift at a local radio station, I could tell if it would be a busy news day simply by sticking a wet finger in the air.
An offshore wind, especially in the summer months, meant that amateur mariners would find themselves swept out to sea in a variety of unsuitable vessels. Those would include small dinghies, airbeds and those big sponges you buy to wash cars.
These stories came bobbing from the depths of my subconscious this morning when I
was piping the Zed crew on board a small motor boat we had rented at Lake Windermere. The eighteen quid ticket had come with a comprehensive thirty second tuition session from the bloke at the kiosk.
“See that brass lever? Good. Pull it to the left and you’re in reverse. Push it to the right and you go forward. Have fun.”
And to think that some fools spend years learning about seamanship. The rest of it must be about tying knots.
So we set off…backing out into the lake which had looked so tranquil from the shore.
Now all I could see were red marker buoys (rocks) kayaks, canoes, rubber dinghies, yachts and fifty foot cruise boats laden with sight-seers. Added to that I had Mrs Z. yakking in my ear about something trivial.
“What is it?” I snapped, “Can’t you see I’m trying to concentrate here?”
“It’s just that…”
“You’re still in reverse.”
“Yes, well, I was getting around to that…just give me a minute.”
So I spun her around (the boat, not my wife) and pretty soon we were puttering along in fine style and I began to relax. More than that, I began to imagine myself as Russell Crowe in Master and Commander. I puffed up my chest and took in a big gulp of Lakeland air. I was coughing for two minutes solid. Boy, those diesel fumes can really get to you. I turned to my crew – who were now green in the face – and saw that they agreed.
Nevertheless we stayed out on the lake for a respectable half hour and then I manoeuvred the boat back to the jetty crunching my forward and reverse gears to bring her in at a safe, er, rate of whotsits…knots.
The kiosk bloke was shouting as us, but I could barely hear him over the wail of the engine. Luckily I can lip read. Even through smoke.
“Put it in NEUTRAL!” he was yelling. I suddenly realised you could do this by leaving the brass lever halfway between forward and reverse.
Not that he had explained this before we set off. Mind you, there was no need really.
Some of us are born sailors.
The Embarrassing Dad
I was leading the Zed family on a trek through Keswick the other day when we stumbled into a quaint little shop that sold nothing but teapots. Luckily it was only a slight stumble so there was no immediate bill for damages. But this shop had teapots in all shapes and sizes including two that looked like old-fashioned radio sets. For a moment I contemplated starting a collection of either teapots or things that resembled radios and then I suddenly realised I would have more fun slapping myself about the head with a cheese-grater.
“Those can’t be real teapots,” said my ten year old son, proving that the money we’re forking out for those cynicism lessons is not going to waste.
“Sure they are, look, I’ll ask that lady at the cash register…excuse me…yoo-hoo!”
“No Dad, don’t…”
But it was too late. Not only did I elicit confirmation that these radio look-a-likes could also be put to practical use but I also made one or two hilarious remarks about the kind of programmes you might be able to receive on a teapot radio. Naturally Ed “Stewpot” Stewart’s name came up, as did the music of T-Rex.
“Of course, you might have to strain to hear that,” I said, turning to my son in triumph… but he was long gone. He was out of the shop and half-way to Hadrian’s Wall while I was still conjuring up teapot puns and wowing the audience of shop customers like an amateur magician pulling suffocated rabbits out of a hat.
That’s when it dawned on me. My days as a credible Children's Entertainer are over.
Instead, I have become the Embarrassing Dad.
Now I’m not sure when this happened because it seems like only yesterday when I could start a family giggle-fest by covering my head in shaving foam and pretending I’d fallen into the trifle. Try the same gag today and I’d get tuts, sighs, groans and more eye-rolling than an explosion in a taxidermist’s workshop.
Of course I should have spotted the signs. Like last week in that café when we ordered desserts and the waitress asked if we wanted our cream whipped.
“Hasn’t it suffered enough?” I retorted as my family disappeared beneath their laminated menus.
This must be what it feels like in show-business. One day you’re top of the bill at the London Palladium, the next you can’t get a booking at the Beach Hall in Carnoustie.
Still, these things come in phases. My material will come back into fashion. All I have to do is wait.
Strange weather here in the Lake District. Woke this morning with a torrent of water scudding off the skylight window of our rented cottage. BBC Radio Cumbria had subsequent reports of local flooding but missed the scoop that Noah was spotted buying timber and livestock.
We huddled together on the sofa eating buttered toast and watching a DVD copy of Miss Potter in which Renee Zellweger plays the part of Beatrix Potter and Ewan McGregor takes the role the young publisher who falls in love with her. Much is made of Potter's connection with the Lake District and the movie has some wonderful shots of Lake Windermere (although these may have been filmed on the Isle of Man).
This afternoon, the rain stopped (Noah was seen at B & Q returning his purchases ) and the sun shined. One of the best days we've had so far, in fact. So we went to the Lakeland visitor centre which has some wonderful woodland walks and views of Windermere. It also has an adventure playground - so the Zedettes were v. happy.
But thoughts of Beatrix Potter were never far away. The visitor centre has a little exhibition devoted to her - one of many you see in these parts - and every shop is stuffed full of Potter souvenirs.
Eat your heart out, J.K. Rowling.
A Sticky End
Day Five of our holiday in the Lake District and we’re heading for the new Lakeland Maize Maze at Sedgwick. So many twists, turns and false starts and a real fear that we’re completely lost but finally we manage to avoid the M6 and find the back road through Sedgwick to the actual Maze.
This does not bode well for our navigation skills so we fork out an extra quid for a sealed envelope containing an escape map which they sell with a promise of a full refund if you don’t break the seal. This appeals to the miser in me and I’m determined that we’ll make it back using logic, deduction and skill.
“Here’s your emergency flag, “says the girl at the gate, “just in case you start getting chest pains or anything.”
And she hands it to me.
Of course, after half an hour trudging through the maze we concede defeat and agree, as a family, to open the envelope.
This doesn’t help because none of us can understand the map. So, I have to confess that we cheated a little by clambering under some chains and making our way across the Victory Bridge to the exit.
“Congratulations,” said the Maze-Maid as we returned our yellow emergency flag, “You were very quick.”
I felt ashamed, but not for long.
So onwards to Kendal and the mouth-watering promise of the Chocolate House on Market Place where they’ve been making chocolate since 1657. That’s about three minutes to five in old money.
In an effort to look sophisticated, I ordered a simple cold chocolate drink, laced with rum flavouring and topped with whipped cream. My ten year old son ordered a chocolate pancake sandwich.
Now, I’m not exactly what happened next. One minute we were in chocolate heaven and then there was a tiny squirting sound and I looked around to see molten chocolate spurting from my son’s pancakes. He’d created his own little chocolate fountain and very soon it was all over his face, hands, my hands, the table-cloth and a couple of nearby American tourists. Waitresses were rushing towards us with damp napkins; it was like a scene from Casualty but with brown blood.
I should cocoa.
Out Of My Tree
“The trouble with holidaying in Britain,” said Mrs Z., stuffing the last bit of banana fritter into her mouth, “is that we’re running out of places to visit that are any nicer than where we live ourselves.”
We were sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Bowness treating ourselves to the all-you-can-eat-for-nine-quid deal. It had been a long day, most of it spent on the water. We’d taken the cruise boat up Lake Windermere to the Lakeside Aquarium. A sign outside the aquarium had warned us that it contained “menacing pike” but we went in anyway. Call us foolhardy. It also had otters, field mice, live crabs and British sharks. You could tell they were British sharks because they kept apologising to their prey and then actually refused to eat them until the keepers agreed to produce a deep-fryer and some ketchup.
Then, this afternoon, we went for a swim – no, not in Lake Windermere but in a local country club. You see, we’ve rented this cottage in Windermere village. The cottage sits in the grounds of a hotel. That hotel has an arrangement with the country club so that we’re able to use their facilities.
So here’s where I tell you another problem with holidaying in Britain. It’s the jobsworth mentality of the people at the heart of our tourism industry. They’re a small minority, but a vocal one.
At the country club, for example, we weren’t allowed to have a quick look around the facilities until we’d completed all the necessary paperwork. In fact we were physically barred from climbing a set of stairs by a Kim Woodburn look-a-like. She blamed “fire regulations” for this rule. As you know, when firefighters rush to the scene of an inferno, they wont rescue anyone unless they’ve got the required chit and docket.
It was the same thing yesterday in a local motor museum in Keswick which had enticed us with a brochure advertising the “cars of the stars”, including the original Batmobile and Chitty,Chitty, Bang, Bang.
“No photographs, “said the man at the door, relieving us of fourteen pounds for a family ticket, “and all mobile phones to be switched OFF.”
I protested that half the fun of seeing these famous cars was to pose beside them like a dooly while other family members snapped off half-dozen out-of-focus shots.
“Sorry, “ said Mr Jobsworth, “but our hands are tied by international copyright regulations.”
I was going to argue the toss about the mobile phone rule because Mrs Z.’s phone (as she continually points out) doesn’t have a camera. But then, maybe we’d also be in breach of copyright rules if we even phoned a friend from the museum and described the finer points of that car from the Dukes of Hazzard.
All of which brings me to something I heard yesterday on BBC Radio Cumbria. The presenter went live to a man who had decided to spend a fortnight 80 foot up a tree. There was a worrying moment when the phone line went dead and listeners were left to imagine this poor bloke tumbling to the ground.
In fact he had simply climbed higher up the tree to get a better signal and then told us how he had spent his first night in a hammock being battered by rain and wind.
I can’t for the life of me remember why he was doing this. Something about a tree charity, I think. But I do admire his bravery.
Imagine doing something like that in this country….and without a permit too!
The Funky Gibbons
To Trotters animal park near Keswick this afternoon and where we became completely entranced by various lemurs and gibbons. The latter, in particular, seemed like little people as they walked on hind legs across their enclosure.
They appeared to be a sociable species...until one grew bored of grooming the other and tried to bite his playmate. Yes, just like little people.
Happily the only thing between ourselves and the jaws of six gibbons was an electrified fence.
I'm now officially on holiday for two weeks and heading, this week, to the Lake District where Mrs Z. has fond memories of childhood summers with her parents. I have less find memories of crowded villages and snakes of traffic heading from one lake-side resort to another....but we shall see. I've already noticed that dual carriageways in this part of the world are not like those we have at home. They tend to paint a broken white line down the middle of a slightly wider single carriageway and leave the rest to the skill of the drivers.
Being here does give me a chance to listen to BBC Radio Cumbria. The signal tends to come and go a littles as you drive through the hills. Sometimes we hear the commercial station C.F.M. and at other we pick up BBC Radio Lancashire.
Interesting to hear that the local traffic and travel news includes items about the First Scotrail services through Dumfries and Kilmarnock.
Beer gardens - always popular in English villages - have become the haven of the newly displaced smokers. Yes, the puffing ban is now in force here which deprives us Scots of making pompous boats about the clean air in pubs and restaurants.
How shall we restore that sense of cultural superiority? Perhaps we should now ban something else. I nominate pork scratchings...what say you?
I'll Never Be On The A-List
One of my favourite bloggers, the Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, has really put a crimp in my day.
He's been quoting research (which originally appeared in a Daily Telegraph article) which seems to suggest that people with surnames near the start of the alphabet are more likely to be successful than those with surnames near the end of the alphabet.
That's fine and dandy for Scott Adams, George Bush and Billy Connolly but not so good for the Zycinski clan.
And you know, this theory rings true. I'm thinking back to my schooldays. My name was always last to be called from the register. I was last in line for the school nurse and probably got the final dribs and drabs of the polio vaccine.
I was last to be issued with school reading books and always got the dog-earfed copy that had belonged to that boy with the nose-bleed problem. I think his name was Eddie Zipp.
This discrimination carried on throughout my life. In the days when people actually kept little address books, they would often use the 'Z' page for shopping lists, based on the belief that they were unlikely to need it for an actual person.
That must have been why they forgot to invite me to all those parties.
Now it all makes sense.
Thanks a lot, Scott!
So You've Been Dumped - The Movie
My friend Thea Newcomb has sent me this link to the video she has just posted on YouTube. It's designed as the trailer to a movie she wants to make.
BBC Radio Scotland listeners might be familiar with Thea. She's American born, but has lived in Scotland for most of her adult life. She's appeared on air many times, often talking about her website So You've Been Dumped.com.
I'm sure she'd appreciate your feedback.
Sex, Drugs, Fame And Money
Still in Cambridge and the last turn of the day at the Radio Festival was Russell Brand, in conversation with Jeremy Vine. It certainly produced some of the funniest lines from the festival as Brand talked candidly about his previous addictions to drugs, his current addiction to sex and a history of mental illness which he said went "on and on and on....like a personal Leningrad."
He also admitted that he liked the fame and the money. "Look I've got some here in my pocket and loads more down at the bank."
He told stories about his early career at MTV when he invited his drug dealer "gritty" for a tour of the studios and managed to introduce him to Kylie Minogue.
Funnily enough, that theme of sex, fame and money was one that had cropped up in an earlier session when the BBC's Andy Parfitt took us through some research into the media habits of teenagers. He described the "pure teen spirit" as one that existed in somewhere between the ultra local neighbourhood of the average teenager and then the online universe which took them as far as Los Angeles.
He also reminded us that a teenager's life is very regimented....driven by class timetables and school bells and that it was no surprise they went a little crazy when released from that environment.
One interesting finding of the research centred on the technology available to teenagers. While we may imagine they live in bedrooms stuffed with digital gadgetry, the truth is that they often end up the the broken-down television sets that their parents no longer want, mobile phones and iPods that no longer work and radios that....well, simply don't exist.
Working For The Bear
I once heard that people contracted to the Walt Disney empire in the U.S. tell colleagues that they are "working for the Mouse". Well, as from today, I'm working for the Bear. Pudsey Bear.
At the Radio festival in Cambrige theis morning we launched BBC Radio Pudsey. We had a yellow Pudsey keyrings in the each of the festivals bags and then the BBC Radio Scotland contingent stood and handed out press releases as other delegates came out of the conference hall for the morning tea-break. The goodwill was amazing and we’ve already had a fantastic offer of free help from an independent production company.
The station itself will be on air for one month – November - and we’ll be producing it from Pacific Quay in Glasgow and making it available on the internet (and overnights on BBC Radio Scotland).
It will be targetted at the fundraisers – children and adults - who raise money for the charity and hopefully we’ll be linking up with BBC Local and Network radio during the month that we’re on air. The programmes will offer fund-raising suggestions and a glimpse behind the scenes of the charity as everyone prepares for the big Children in Need day.
The only snag I can forsee is that Pudesy himself isn’t renowned as a great conversationalist (he’s shy), but hopefully we can persuade a string of celebrity guests to speak on his behalf.
Fun At The Festival
The Radio Festival is said to be a great opportunity for people in “the industry” to network with each other. This year, like last, it’s being held in Cambridge and I’m heading there today in the hope of hearing stimulating debate and dialogue from my colleagues in the world of broadcasting. I’m an optimist, you see.
Last year’s Festival received some justified criticism for the scarcity of women as platform speakers. The debates also had an ad hoc feel to them. This year should be better. The Festival has a new boss - Trevor Dann – and there isn’t much he doesn’t know about production.
Yet some say the important stuff actually happens in the tea-breaks, when people get the chance to exchange full and frank views with their contemporaries. The Very Important people have actually developed the skill of talking to you without actually listening to a word you’re saying. Their eyes dart over your shoulder as they look for someone more interesting.
Two years ago, when the Radio Festival was in Edinburgh, I spotted one of the supremos of U.K. radio and strode towards her, my hand outstretched.
“Aha, “ she said, her eyes flickering with recognition, “I know who you are!”
I was flattered.
“Yes, I’m Jeff Zyc…”
“Yes, “ she said, “you’re my taxi driver aren’t you? Well. I’m so glad…I thought I was going to miss my flight.”
I should have been insulted, but then again, she was a great tipper.
Gone To Facebook - Back Soon
Diary reader, Al Isnner, has created a little therapy group on Facebook for everyone who reads this blog. So far it has three members including me and, to be frank, I'm not even sure I qualify.. Let's face it, if I read this diary as thoroughly as I should then there wouldn't be half as many spelling mistakes.
But yes, Facebook is latest thing for the self-confessed self-obsessed and you're welcome to come over there and join the party
I'll put out some drinks and nibbles.
And there's plenty of nuts.
A River Runs Through It
I spotted this headline about graveyard gate stealers while walking through Grantown-on-Spey this afternoon. If you want to know the full story you can click on this link, but I mention it because it illustrates exactly what I love about visiting small towns and villages.
Take Grantown-on-Spey as an example. It's just over thirty miles from Inverness, but it feels like another world. The architecture is different, the range of shops seem like something from the 1950's and the whole place is just, well, charming.
Yet scratch the surface and you realise all is not as it seems. I mean, who are these people who are nicking gates from graveyards? Are they part of an international fencing operation? Questions need to be asked and where better to start than Chaplins' ice cream parlour where the waiter refers to every customer as "darling" or "sweetheart" regardless of them being man, woman or child. They specialise in "big" stuff at Chaplin. I had an enormous bowl of Scotch broth and, at the counter, spied a slab of caramel shortcake the size of a house brick.
But did anyone there know anything about the graveyward smash 'n' grab. Maybe, but, well, I forgot to ask. As you know, I'm easily distracted by food.
But your theories are welcome.
We've Got The Builders In
Finally, after months of anticipation, work has started on the refurbishment on the BBC building in Inverness. It means the car park is out of use for all but two of our news vehicles and we've had to beg and borrow spaces from friends, neighbours and local hoteliers.
The work will take about nine months and when things really get going the majority of staff will housed in Portacabins at the back of the building. We're being asked to minimise the demand for extra accommodation by clever use of flexible hours and homeworking. I broke this news to Mrz Z last night.
"You mean you'll be working here during the day? In our house?"
"Well, " I said, sensing the need to tread carefully, "that's just an idea at this stage..."
"But you'll disrupt my whole day...you wont be able to work with me hoovering...you'll hog the telephone...you'll be in the kitchen making cups of tea.."
"So...you're not keen?"
"I didn't say that."
Oh well, it's good to know I'm always welcome in my own home. Later Mrs Z was talking about the imminent arrival of our new puppy and discussing the detailed plans for its sleeping area and external pen."
I was going to suggest that we could build a pen for me too...but I was already in the doghouse.
Call That Graffiti?
I saw something on my way into the BBC this morning and it's been haunting me ever since. It was on the Millennium Bridge - one of those footbridges at Pacific Quay - and it was just this simple scrawl of graffiti: Tesco Smells.
Now, I should have just walked on and got on with running the radio station. That, after all, is what they pay me to do. But... Tesco Smells? What kind of poor excuse for graffiti is that? I mean, this is Glasgow, where neds have a proud tradition of daubing slogans about, well, rival gangs, football teams and religious leaders.
But supermarkets? That's a new one on me. And it's not as if the scrawled statement was particuarly powerful. I mean, Tesco Stinks would have been bold.
So what's going on? My theory is that Glasgow's gangs are being infiltrated by the middle classes. Imagine the scene...it's midnight on the bridge and seasoned headcase Malky is giving instruction to new recruit Sebastian.
Malky: Ok, here we are Sebby boy...a nice big space on that bridge...did you remember to bring the Magic Markers by the way?
Seb: Well yes, but the colour choice wasn't great. I was hoping to create something in shades of pastel...
Malky: Never mind that. Let's get to work before the Polis turn up. Now what's it tae be...make your mark, Sebby boy, get your anger out there for all to see
Seb: Yes indeed, well I did have a rather frustrating experience in Tesco this morning. They were all out of Kiwi fruit...
Malky: Aye...Tesco stinks right enough
Seb: Well, that's a bit harsh...I'll maybe tone that down a little...
Glad To See The Back Of That Bus
Our Radio Events team have started recording this year's series of Let's do the Show Right Here. Across Scotland, communities are literally banding together to raise fund for local causes.
The latest was recorded in Kinlochbervie where villagers are desperate to buy a new mini-bus so that schoolchildren can be transported safely to activities which often happen hundred of miles away.
The audio slideshow above was made by our events producer Karen MacKenzie and was screened for the audience before the show got underway.
It's worth a look if for no other reason than it shows the wonderful scenery in that parts of the Highlands.
As for the show itself, I'm told that compere Michelle McManus sang five songs...then someone in the audience offered her £25 for a kiss and then someone else also offered £25 for another song.
Did they reach their target? You'll have to wait until your hear the programme.
Those Smoking Outsiders May Outlive Us All
Now that the smoking ban is official throughout Britain, I wonder if it's time to pause and reflect on the cruel twist of fate that awaits those of us who have never puffed on the glowing weed.
It struck me like a Swan Vesta last week in Glasgow when I noticed the clusters of office workers loitering in little grey clouds outside every big city centre block.
Those are the people who are actually taking screen breaks from their computers. Some of them, I'm sure, will have walked down several flights of stairs to get outisde. Those are the same folk who are getting regular fresh air...albeit tainted with exhaust fumes and nicotine.
The rest of us remain desk-bound. Screen breaks are ignored in favour of online shopping and Facebook updates. Many of us actually eat at our desks.
I must get ths theory to my chum Lamont Howie at BBC Radio Stoke who, at this very moment is encouraging addicts like himself to quit the ciggies.
Oh, and if you need more convincing, think about John Smeaton, the have-a-go hero who tackled the guys who drove that car into Glasgow airport.
Apparently he was out there on his fag break.
Sometimes real life intrudes horribly into this digital playground that we call the internet. It happened to me this morning when I got some very sad news from a person I've never met.
It was from someone whose name I had spotted on Facebook...a young man in London who shared the same surname as my Mother before she was married.
It's not a common name, so I was keen to know if we had some kind of family link. I e-mailed him, we exchanged a few questions and answers and soon we established he was the grandson of my Mother's young brother - my Uncle Robert was his Grandfather. I was so excited. Hey, isn't the internet great for that kind of stuff!
I hadn't seen Robert for more than twenty years. When my Mother died, her side of the family tended to drift away- or perhaps we drifted from them - but I had fond memories of my Uncle. He was a kind and gentle soul and, whenever I visited his house in Glasgow, he would give me chocolate biscuits and let me play with his Viewmaster - one of those plastic toys that let you see still images in 3D.
I also enjoyed hearing stories of how he and my Mum had played childhood games in Tollcross Park and had gone to see Shirley Temple matinees at the Black Cat picture house. The stories conjured up vivid images of Glasgow before the Second World War. More vivid than a Viewmaster.
Then the bad news: Uncle Robert died last year. Today, via a Facebook contact on the internet, was the first I'd heard that news. Tonight I called my Dad in Glasgow and told him too.
He's eighty-seven, doesn't hear too well and I had some difficulty explaining to him how I'd heard the news. Computers, internet, Facebook - I might as well have been speaking a foreign language.
In my Mother's day, bad news came by telegram, hours or days after the event.
But this is the digital age. The news can travel faster, but somehow the distances between families seem greater.
I spent much of Saturday night listening to James Cook host our coverage of the events at Glasgow airport. Familiar voices and local accents talking about a situation that feels so surreal for us in Scotland. It all seems so horribly close to home and, in fact, we have so many friends heading out on holiday this week that our thoughts turn to how things could have been so much worse.
My only role in these situations is to maintain contact with our Head of News, Atholl Duncan and to give the nod to his plan for extended news programmes and other schedule changes over the next few days.
All the hard work is done by our journalists and the support staff who get them on air.
Let's hope they don't have more days like today in the coming week.
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