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JZ's Diary

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.

Photograph of Jeff Zycinski.
  1. The Wedding Party

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 29 Feb 08, 05:49 PM

    Mr & Mrs Chisholm

    There was gale-force winds, horizontal rain and fallen trees, but Mrs Z. and I were determined to get to the Spa Pavilion at Strathpeffer tonight to join the wedding celebration. Joanne Morrison (known to diary readers as my long-suffering P.A.) had chosen this extra day in the calendar to get hitched to Duncan Chisholm (legendary fiddler and all-round good guy).

    The guest-list was awash with Scottish musical talent. Phil Cunnigham kicked off the evening dancing with a waltz he'd composed for the happy couple and confessed he had never before tried to play the accordion while wearing a kilt. He said he felt like one of the Alexander Brothers. We also met up with another fine fiddler in the shape of Bruce McGregor (currently hosting his own show on BBC Radio Scotland!).

    A great night - romance, music, whisky and stovies. Life doesn't get much better than this.

    Joanne & Duncan Chisholm

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  1. Baldragon Picture Show

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 28 Feb 08, 10:59 PM

    A return visit to Baldragon Academy in Dundee, host of this year's SoundTown project and, this afternoon, the venue for the Tom Morton show. I was told that four hundred of the school's six hundred pupils have now taken part in the various events that have been organised since September last year. Here are some photographs from today's show which was co-hosted by two senior pupils and included a fantastic performance from the school's rhythm orchestra.

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  1. Calling At Perth, Dundee And Memory Lane

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 28 Feb 08, 12:36 PM


    Heading for Dundee this morning I found myself changing trains at Perth but with half an hour to kill. Well, the sun was shining so I wandered out of the station and into town and soon found myself coming face to face with an old friend. Rabbie Burns, it was, or rather, a statue of said poet which is perched above a pub on the junction of County Place and South Street. I don't know how long he has stood there, but I first saw him forty years ago when he became a familiar landmark on our annual family drive from Glasgow to Dundee. We spent summer school holidays in a hut between Monfieth and Carnoustie. It would take you 90 minutes to get there from Glasgow now, but in those days the car journey took almost four hours and the road snaked through places like Auchterarder, Blackford and - before they built the Friarton Bridge over the Tay- the centre of Perth itself.

    I can remember the long line of stop-start traffic and my Mum pointing out Rabbie on his perch as a part of her many distraction techniques for us weans crammed into the beltless back seat of the car.

    My Dad drove like a man on a mission and regarded the notion of breaking the journey as tantamount to stupidity. But once in a while he would agree to park in the middle of Perth so that my Mum could buy her "messages" in the Coopers supermarket. It's long gone. There's a Tesco Metro there now and a swish indoor shopping mall.

    Apart from that, very little seemed to have changed. But then, as I stood admiring Rabbie on his perch, I realised that everything had.

    South Street in Perth

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  1. Talk Of The Towns

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 27 Feb 08, 04:37 PM


    The letters page of the Inverness Courier is full of complaints about the state of the town centre. Meanwhile residents in Lockerbie are up in arms because a politician dared to describe their town centre as "a dump".

    What we learn from this is that only local people seem to have the moral right to decry their own home town. Outsiders - even those who claim to be making a point in support of future renovation - risk the kind of backlash that Victor Frankenstein would provoke when villagers got wind that he was cobbling together another monster. Queue here for your pitch-forks and burning torches.

    And there's another angle to this which, I suppose, is all about the eye of the beholder. I happen to think that Inverness is one of the best looking towns in Scotland and is certainly one of the best situated when you look at the local landscape.

    But if I had to nominate one local landmark for another revamp it would be the Victorian Market. I wandered through that arcade today and, yes, I was impressed that it still conatined a genuine fishmonger with a window full of haddock, monkfish and lemon sole. Yet it does seem to be a wasted opportunity when you compare it with what's been done with the old Fruitmarket in Glasgow.

    Not that I'd dare say any of this in public.

    Victorian Market, Inverness

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  1. In Better Spirits

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 24 Feb 08, 10:28 PM

    Spirit of Adventure

    I'm nursing a cold. What a quaint little expression that is. You can almost imagine a little cartoon character, teardrop-shaped but with a bulbous red nose, tucked under blankets with a thermometer sticking out of its mouth. Or...maybe not.

    Anyway I should have spent yesterday in bed but guilt about my absence last week led me out of doors and to yet another four-hour football tournament with Zed-son. This time we were up at Charleston Academy on the northern slopes of Inverness. To get to the playing fields you had to negotiate a muddy path through bushes and then nip nimbly through a wire fence.

    Other Dads seem quite good at this nipping nimbly stuff. I tend to slide down embankments and career into the side of trees. Zed-son walks a few yards ahead pretending I'm with someone else. Despite that I stood loyally on the touchline, watching every game. Well..almost. . I did sneak back to the car for half an hour to listen to the radio. It's my job, after all. Naturally that was when he scored his only goal of the afternoon.

    So today I'm staying home, sipping whisky and re-reading Tom Morton's excellent Spirit of Adventure. It was re-published last year and I still reckon it's one of his best books. A Scottish classic, actually and not really about whisky at all. It's more to do with Scottish culture and our attitude to alcohol and it's very funny as well.

    But it fair gives you a thirst.

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  1. Loopy In London

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 22 Feb 08, 05:48 PM

    I feel sick. I've been on the road since the start of the week - Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London - and now I'm at Gatwick Airport waiting for the delayed flight back to Inverness. I've spent seven hours in a hot, sticky meeting room at the BBC's White City complex. I kept my jacket and tie on throughout as a kind of masochistic test of self-discipline. Shirt-sleeved colleagues - weaklings - remarked that my face changed colour with every passing hour...from peele-wally to purple with various stop-offs along the visible spectrum. I did not buckle. I did not bend. I forced others to raise their voices to compete with my heavy breathing. The meeting - an annual performance review - went well. At least, I think it did. I may have been hallucinating.

    Now, however, I feel ghastly and slightly crazed. Not crazed enough to spend twenty quid on one of those lottery tickets for a luxury sports car. But just the wrong side of loopy so that I wander into the gift shop and actually consider buying a set of tea caddies with emblazoned with scenes of London.

    I need to get home. Perhaps if I collapse in a heap next to the caviar shop they'll revive me with vodka and send me home in a yellow helicopter.

    It's worth a try.

    London by air

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  1. The Deacon Brodie Moment

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 21 Feb 08, 03:06 PM

    Deacon Brodie pub sign

    To Edinburgh this morning for a staff meeting and, at lunchtime, a stroll up the Royal Mile in search of a cafe. I settled on a little tearoom that also served all-day-breakfast...perhaps the most beautiful expression in the entire English language. Opening a copy of The Scotsman, my eye was drawn to this article the infamous Deacon Brodie. This piece was based on a forthcoming edition of our Case Reopened series.

    Brodie was the famous cabinet-maker who lived a double life...playing the civic-mindded gent by day while robbing his clients homes by night. He is said to have inspired the take of Jekyll and Hyde.

    Now historian Owen Dudley Edwards believes that Brodie cheated death by escaping the gallows and being spirited away to America by friends.

    As chance would have it, I find I'm sitting just a few hundred yards away from the Deacon Brodie pub. I consider nipping inside an ordering one of those stange brews that often alter my own personality.

    Lager, I think it's called.

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  1. The Four Minute MacAulays

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 20 Feb 08, 11:57 AM

    Fred and friends

    Former Olympic gold medalist, Alan Wells, says it can't be done. But Fred MacAulay and friends are determined to prove him wrong....and all in aid of Sport Relief.

    What are they up to? Nothing less than an attempt to break the four minute mile, but by using sixteen runner who all have to do one hundred metres each.

    Today I played the role of official spectator as Fred and fifteen of BBC Radio Scotland's finest backroom boys and girls staged their first practise run. They didn't break the four minute barrier this mroning, but I'm told one or two of them put in fantastic performances.

    More on this soon!

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  1. Changes Afoot In Aberdeen

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 19 Feb 08, 07:38 PM


    Train to Aberdeen this morning and struck by the changes underway around the station including the dismantling of the old bus station. The little row of decaying shops there never afforded the most beautiful entry point to this city, but it remains to be seen if the complex currently under construction will be an improvement.

    Up to Beechgrove Terrace and a staff meeting followed by our monthly programme review board. This time were discussing Diggin Up Your Roots, The Outdoors Portal and the Tom Morton programme.

    Talking about these last two things togther prompted the suggestion that Tom Morton with his passion for bicycles, should make a short film for the outdoors website offering hints and tips on different bikes. Similarly Bryan Burnett, a renowned marathon runner, could offer advice on the best footwear for runners.

    Best idea of the day came from the music team who suggested that the the Take The Floor programme could develop an on-line guide to celidh dancing.
    As someone who struggles with any dance more complicated than the Gay Gordon, I can see the attraction of an online guide.

    Someone send for a Dashing White Sergeant!

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  1. Falling For It Every Time

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 18 Feb 08, 07:54 PM

    Susanne Fraser

    Ten o'clock this morning and I'm in an Inverness bar, talking funny stuff with Suzanne Fraser. Suzanne, you may recall, presented a series on comedy and parenting a while back called You're Kidding. She's now based down south but we meet up from time to time to discuss possible ideas. Today she was visiting friends and family in Inverness and was able to fit me in to her schedule before heading down to Drumnadrochit to buy some toy Nessies.

    We met in the lounge bar of the Beaufort Hotel where we sipped tea and talked about Suzanne's recent comedy workshops for children in Darlington. She told me that the Primary 7 kids there had a sophiticated understanding of modern comedy and were able to discuss everything from Scooby-Doo to Peter Kaye.

    Somehow the conversation drifted on to Suzanne's own childhood in Ayrshire. Her primary school was across the road from Burns' Cottage in Alloway and she still retains a fascination for the Bard and his infidelities. She also talked about her days working in the Butlin's holiday camp and her resentment of the Glasgow hordes who would descend every summer to steal the beach-space at Ayr.

    "We couldn't quite understand why Glasgow people came to our town on their holidays, " she said, "but then again our family tended to escape the Scottish seaside and spend two weeks in Blackpool!"

    That made me smile but Suzanne's research has revealed the one single thing that's almost guaranteed to make children guffaw.

    "People falling over," she told me, "it works every time."

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  1. Novel Suggestions

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 17 Feb 08, 12:06 AM

    I’m going back to school next month and I’ll have to stand up in front of the class and read stuff out. The good news is I won’t have to recite the eight-times-table. All I have to do is choose a book that I encountered for the first time when I was a teenager, say what I enjoyed about it and then read a selected passage. Oh, and it has to be a novel…which rules out all that yucky stuff from the Guinness Book of Records that immediately sprang to mind when I thought about my teenage reading habits. I mean, that woman who hasn’t cut her fingernails for thirty years…how would she play with a Rubik’s cube without losing an eye?

    But I digress.

    I should explain that all of this is part of a World Book Day project in which authors and other “local personalities” are being invited into classrooms to help inspire younger readers with their recommendations. I’m going to Millburn Academy in Inverness. All I have to do is choose a book, just one book, but that’s easier said than done.

    Catcher in the Rye

    I was going to plump for The Catcher in the Rye, but I reckon that’s too obvious and, in any case, most teenagers will have read that already. My next two choices were The Trial by Franz Kafka and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I read both of these when I was sixteen and, moreover, I brought them to school every day for six months so that my contemporaries would be blown away by my obvious depth of intellect. Those shallow fools! Not even the girls seemed impressed.

    Both books have to be excluded on the grounds that I only pretended to understand them then and I certainly don’t understand them now.


    The books I really enjoyed were The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. I rummaged around in the attic, unearthed my original paperback copies and thumbed though the pages looking for a suitable passage or two. Hmmm. Somehow they don’t seem as funny now as they did then. Perhaps they read better when accompanied by bottles of full-strength irn bru, smokey bacon crisps and an Aztec bar.

    Finally I found the book I’m going to talk about. I remember buying it from a second-hand book stall and I just might have been drawn to the cover photograph of a sultry woman with bare shoulders and come-hither eyes. The photograph, as it turned out, had absolutely nothing to do with the story and was obviously an attempt by the 1970’s publishers to hook a new readership.

    The story is set in New York before the First World War and the central character is a young girl, an Irish-American immigrant, who fights her way out of poverty and into a better life. The book is, of course, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

    But what would you have chosen?

    A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

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  1. Football In A Cold Climate

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 16 Feb 08, 06:17 PM

    highland academy

    I'm coming round to the idea of a winter shutdown for the football season, having braved the wind-chill factor to watch seven different games today. The first half-dozen of those games took place at Ross County's ground in Dingwall which is also home to the Highland Football Academy. Today it was the venue for a sixes tournament involving teams from Primary schools as far afield as Invergordon and Portree. Zed-son was in the line-up for his school's A-team which made it as far as the semi-finals. He, it should be recorded, scored two of the early goals and had another spectacular effort denied by the keeper.

    No sooner had the tournament finished (Balloch won it, by the way) than it was time to head back across the Kessock Bridge to watch Inverness Caley take on Dundee United. Compared with the drama and passion on display in the schools' games, the first half of the Caley game was dismal. We watched stray ball being booted into the main stand and another went so far out of the ground there's probably a Moray Firth dolphin swimming around with concussion.

    It was so dull we began to take more interest in the press photographer on the touch-line as he downloaded his digital snaps onto a laptop and sent them off into cyberspace.

    Press Photographer

    But then things picked up in the second half as Dundee United scored and seemed on course for victory. It was not to be. The home team snatched the eqauliser just four minutes before the whistle blew and, well, we all agreed it was a fair result.

    We listened to Your Call on the drive home and I was tempted to call Jim Traynor and Annie McGuire just to bleat about something, anything....perhaps the weather or maybe the game of dodgems you have to play to get your car out of the Caley Thistle car park. But you're not allowed to moan into a mobile phone and drive at the same time. It's the law.

    Besides, that's why blogs were invented.

    Jeff Zycinski

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  1. Big Band In Inverness

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Feb 08, 07:06 PM

    eden court inverness

    The BBC Big Band was playing at Eden Court in Inverness tonight and not even the freezing fog could keep me away. The performance was being recorded for the Jazz Line-Up programme we produce for BBC Radio 3. Another edition of the programme will go out live from Eden Court tomorrow afternoon.

    It was a terrific night and featured Scotland's own Carol Kidd - in fine voice - and also a lively rendition of Comin' Thro' The Rye which fused jazz with bagpipes. The finale mirrored the line-up of the 1938 Benny Goodman concert that had orginally been performed in the Carnegie Hall in New York.

    In the interval I went backstage for a chat with producer Keith Loxam. His only worry was that the applause was lasting so long it was throwing out all his timings.

    Not the worst worry in the world and it says something that so many people would brave a cold February night in Inverness to hear live jazz. There was actually one person too many in the audience if you ask me. I'm talking about that person who thought it was a good idea to rustle a sweetie packet at the start of every number.

    I mean, honestly!

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  1. Having A Stab At The Crime Novel

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Feb 08, 09:20 AM

    More than two thousand listeners have signed up for our Write Here, Right Now campaign which, this year, is offering free expert advice on how to write a crime novel. It's proving twice as popular as the romance theme of last year's project which maybe says something about our fascination with the subject.

    Bill Whiteford

    Newsdrive presenter Bill Whiteford is one of those aspiring authors who has been persauded to take up the challenge. You can follow the progress of his novel during MacAulay & Co. His story centres on a retired detective who takes up a job as a security officer for the Forth & Clyde canal. Naturally, a body is discovered!

    I'm always keen to acknowledge that Write Here, Write Now was inspired by the American National Novel Writing Month idea - and our production team in Edinburgh, led by David Stenhouse, has forged some good links with the NaNoWriMo guys. Trying to write an entire novel in one month may not be the easiest challenege in the world but those who take part tell us they are encouraged by the thought that hundreds of other people are doing the same thing, as well as by the daily newsletters from established authors.

    Of course, writing a thousand words a day can be murder, but it's worth a stab.

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  1. Love Is On The Air

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Feb 08, 11:28 PM

    The latest production from our drama department, a Most Civil Arrangement, is still available on the Radio iPlayer in case you missed it this afternoon. It was part of our Valentine's Day programming and I would have to admit our approach to this annual love-fest was a little uncoventional.

    Tonight, for example, I was driving north up the A9 listening to Bryan Burnett present a collecion of anti-love-songs in Get It On. He also included a few stories from listeners about affairs that had gone wrong, girlfriends who had gone astray, that kind of thing.

    As the fog descended over Drumochter it sort of reflected the atmosphere coming out of the radio.


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  1. I've Lost It

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 13 Feb 08, 11:20 PM

    My camera, that is. Lost. It's probably at Heathrow airport where I was forced to spend the better part of this evening waiting for a flight to Glasgow. Or else it's on the plane...tumbling around in one of those overhead luggage bins. Investigations will start tomorrow.

    The worst of it is...I had some incriminating photographs of a BBC colleague on that memory card.

    If it falls into the wrong I don't even want to think about that.

    I'm really losing it now.

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  1. Artists Impression

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 12 Feb 08, 03:58 PM

    artist impression of BBC Inverness

    A gorgeous afternoon in Inverness as a crowd of us gather in the Beaufort Hotel to discuss the internal design plans for the refurbished BBC building. We meet in the hotel because there is no meeting space available in the little Portacabin village we have been occupying since the autumn.

    Today, though, are thoughts are in the future...anticipating the summer opening of our new-look offices and talking about things like desk sizes, storage spaces and,of course, meeting rooms.

    There will be a little kitchen cafe at the back of the building with patio doors leading to an external courtyard. We talk about the kind of programmes we could broadcast from sessions...cookery...comedy.

    And then we trek back across the road to see the reality of the building work. Ah, if only life always lived up to the artists impression.

    Inverness BBC February

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  1. Time To Tackle The Irish And The Welsh

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 11 Feb 08, 10:46 PM

    Forget the Six Nations rugby, it's time to consider the rough and tumble of the radio awards season. Some good news I should have shared a couple of weeks ago is that BBC Radio Scotland has been nominated as Station of the Year in the Celtic Media Festival.

    So too has BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal, BBC Radio Wales and the Irish station RTE Radio 1.

    Either way, the Scots will out-number the others when it comes to the big ceremony in Galway. If anyone else tries to pick up that award we might have to resort to rugby tackles.

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  1. Hands Up For DAB?

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 11 Feb 08, 09:33 PM

    Pure Evoke DAB radio

    I still have my original Pure Evoke DAB radio and the box it came in. Maybe one day it will be a collector's item. One day soon if the harbingers of digital doom are right.

    Sorry to get all geeky on you, but I'm intrigued by today's announcement from GCap Media that they are switching off their digital-only radio stations and selling off their interest in the Digital One company that allows national commercial stations access to DAB. Their boss, Fru Hazlitt, says they can't make any money out of it, mainly because it costs so much to put the stations on that platform in the first place.

    The BBC, on the other hand, has the licence fee revenue and stations such as BBC 7 have been growing audiences year after year.

    So the problem is not with the popularity of DAB radios (more sets than ever were sold at the tail end of last year) but in the business model which seeks to convert that popularity into hard cash.

    Except in Scotland there are added complications involving the number of DAB blackspots between the major towns and cities.

    So, as one who regrets the demise of any radio station - commercial or BBC - I have a question for diary readers

    Does DAB have a future?

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  1. Imaginary Friends Reunited

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 8 Feb 08, 03:08 PM

    I like to keep my finger on the pulse of modern media and give you the heads-up on the next big thing. Social networking websites are all the rage so it’s only a matter of time before someone invents one for those make-believe mates we knew in childhood. But be warned; if an old pretend playmate gets in touch with you, don’t be seduced into the idea of a reunion in some quiet café.

    BILLY: So this is weird isn’t it? How many years has it been? Thirty-five?

    BOBO: (Stubbing his cigarette into a fried egg) Thirty-six years come your next birthday. Remember that party?

    BILLY . That’s right, my tenth birthday party! Mummy said that was the cut-off point. She said the other children would laugh at me if I invited you to the party. She said I could never talk to you again.

    BOBO: I had to stand there watching you all stuff your faces with cake.

    BILLY. Fluffy purple bears don’t eat cake. You eat purple grapes.

    BOBO. Yeah, I forgot. Not that it matters given that I’ve eaten precisely nothing for thirty five years. I mean did you even give me a second’s thought in all that time?

    BILLY: Of course I did. I really missed you…at first.

    BOBO: And now?

    BILLY: Well, you know…I’ve moved on…I’ve grown up.

    BOBO: Hah!

    BILLY: What does that mean.

    BOBO: Nothing. Nothing at all. But tell me…do you have any real friends these days?

    BILLY: Yes, dozens and dozens. You ought to see my Facebook account.

    BOBO: But anyone you’ve actually met?

    BILLY: Let me think….hmmm….nope.

    BOBO: So Billy, where do we go from here?

    BILLY: How about the fruit shop? I could get some grapes and feed you.

    BOBO: You’re crazy.

    BILLY: No, Bobo. Just lonely.

    BOBO: Not any more Billy-boy. I’m back!

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  1. Year Of The Rat

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 7 Feb 08, 11:03 PM

    Dragon dance

    I was in London's Chinatown distrct in time to witness the start of the New Year celebrations, including some of the traditional dragon dances. The little streets behind Leicester Square were packed with locals and tourists alike and the dragons and drummers needed a police escort to move them through the crowds.

    A real festive spirit on a very spring-like afternoon in the city. People watching from first floor windows got the best view.

    Chinatown London

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  1. London Alert

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 7 Feb 08, 10:58 PM


    I was strolling along Regent Street in London, heading for a meeting at the BBC's Henry Wood House, when a policeman started shouting at me. Not just me, of course, but hundreds of afternoon shoppers.

    "Get yourself off the street as quickly as possible!"

    All around us was the wail of ambulance and police sirens and there were fire engines and rapid response vehicles parked on either side of the street. A cordon of blue and white tape told us there was some kind of emergency, but no one knew exactly what was going on. I heard a group of construction workers talk about a gas explosion, some said there had been an accident in a man-hole.
    Later the news revealed that one man had been seriously hurt after drilling through electrical cables.

    No one on the street had talked about a bomb and, in truth, everyone looked calm and relaxed. They waited and watched while the emergency services went about their business. Perhaps Londoners are just getting used to this kind of thing.

    rapid response ambulance

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  1. More Bridge Fun

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 6 Feb 08, 09:47 PM

    Clyde Arc

    A few days ago I suggested that repair work on the Clyde Arc (squinty bridge) resembled knitting. Well, this morning things had moved on. It now looks like the engineers have discovered oil.

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  1. Jeff's Nightly Tours

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 5 Feb 08, 11:09 PM

    Pacific Quay at night.

    I've thought of a lucrative little earner that will also keep me out of the pubs on those evenings when I'm in Glasgow: tours of our H.Q. at Pacific Quay. It came to me this evening when I found myself walking around the building with my wife's parents. They'd been so keen for a glimpse behind the scenes that they were prepared to venture out on a rainy night and subject themselves to the scrutiny of our security staff. I tell you, it's like Checkpoint Charlie down at that reception desk.

    It was all going so well until my Father-in-Law was almost squeezed to a pulp by the sliding glass barriers. That only happens when someone tries to exit at the same time as someone else is trying to enter. We've lost some good people that way. No names, but maybe that's why Pudsey has been missing since November.

    But it was strange walking around my workplace with family members. They seemed, somehow, out of context. A bit like meeting your parish priest in a night-club...only more unusual. Of course I had to be on my best behaviour, knowing that everything I said and did might form the basis of a lengthy phone conversation with Mrs Z. So I showed them the drama studio, the back of Bryan Burnett's head and pointed out David Robertson in the newsroom. We then retired to the rooftop restaurant for a natter.

    It was all very pleasant but as I waved them goodbye I got to thinking about the money-spinning possibilities of these night-time tours. Would anyone be prepared to pay good money to have me guide them around a series of empty offices?

    Not for personal gain, you understand, but for Children In Need. Ach, maybe not. I once offered my services as a public speaker on the same basis and had no takers. In fact, I now have to pay people to be allowed to talk to them.

    If only Pudsey was still around. He'd have all the answers.


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  1. They'll Never Take Me Alive

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 4 Feb 08, 07:33 PM


    I'm doing my bit for BBC Radio Scotland's Crime Season by sharing a few personal stories, mostly involving run-ins with the law. You see, I’ve spent my life running from the police. That fact dawned on me today when, in the kind of idle moment I would usually devote to the excavation of ear-wax, I decided to list my various encounters with the ‘Boys in Blue’. I now know my destiny lies behind bars, protesting my innocence to an uncaring world. Let’s examine the evidence.

    Rogerfield School 2008

    My career as a fugitive from injustice started early. Picture a school playground in Easterhouse at seven o’clock on a chilly November evening. I was nine years old and standing outside the entrance to the school hall alongside two friends. We usually loitered as a quartet, but our fourth member was inside the school attending a Boys’ Brigade meeting. As a trio we had pooled our imagination and decided that the best way to kill time would be to stand around doing nothing until our friend returned. Yes, we were an inventive bunch.

    The trouble started when another group of boys –older than us, taller too and more deranged – arrived in the same location armed with pyrotechnics. They were the kind of headcases who used the safety leaflet inside every box of fireworks as a kind of terrorists’ training manual. All you had to do was reverse the logic of the advice. Why leave roman candles to burn, spark and fizz when they could be much more potent propelled through the air like grenades? Light the blue touch-paper and chuck.

    The school janitor, a portly man with a head like a gnarly neep, was having none of this, but he was too much of a coward to confront the banger-boys himself. Instead he called the police. The blue and white panda car arrived ten minutes later with the screech of tyres on tarmac, the slamming of doors and the rapid slap-slap of size ten feet running across the playground. It was at this point I decided to run. Don’t ask me why. Just the sight of those looming uniforms made me feel guilty. Anyway, I ran and, as I ran, I squeaked my denials into the chill winter night.

    “It wisnae me! It wisnae me!”

    Of course, as we all know, innocent people don’t run from the law. Only the guilty have anything to fear. We also know that the truth will out and justice is blind. Well, maybe it’s just Jannies who are blind because when the cops dragged me back to the school’s reception office the janitor had no problems in fingering me as one of the firework fiends.

    “Aye, he’s one of them.”

    Well I’d love to tell you that I became a cause celebre, that this story continued with an epic court case and that I became the Easterhouse equivalent of the Winslow Boy. That’s not what happened. Instead my friends rushed up the street to fetch my Mother who hurtled down to the school as fast as her carpet slippers could carry her. Voices were raised, the janitor recanted and my liberty was restored.

    But to this day, whenever I hear a police car, I start to run.

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  1. Crime Reporter

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 4 Feb 08, 02:45 AM

    I was burgled once. It was years ago, before I was married, and I was living alone in a top-floor tenement flat on the south side of Glasgow. Battlefield actually, in case you're keen on details. I was also working night-shifts at Radio Clyde, reading the news from ten at night until half-past six the following morning.

    That meant, of course, that my whereabouts was literally being broadcast to would-be house-breakers and, sure enough, I arrived home one morning to find my flat looking like an upturned midden. This was not uncommon in my bachelor days, but I also noticed the absence of a video recorder, a green parka jacket and a wee bag of five pence pieces. In other words, the robbers had taken everything of value. Naturally, I called the police.

    A few days later two uniformed officers arrived at my loose-hinged door and I invited them in so they could dust for fingerprints and do some sleuthing. In no time at all those night-time raiders would be tracked down to their hideaway in the South of France. Wearing my parka jacket on the beach would give them away. The police would spring into action. Or so I hoped. Instead they vouchsafed the view that my worldy goods were gone forever and that I would have to get used to life without time-shifted television programmes. At least until I bought a new VCR.

    They changed their tune, however, when they discovered where I worked. The world-weary expressions were replaced by excited smiles and a rapid-fire interrogation about the various disc-jockeys at the station.

    "Do you know Tiger Tim?" asked one, "or Doctor Dick?" asked the other.

    It was good cop/good cop for a full five minutes and then I found myself writing down the names of their various relatives and promising to honour their music requests and dedications. As for my stolen possessions...they were right, I never did see them again.

    Anyway, I mention this story because we're having a crime season on BBC Radio Scotland at the moment. Various programmes will be picking up the theme and some of Scotland's best-known crime writers are offering to help listeners pen their own whodunnit.

    I actually have four or five true stories about my dealings with the forces of justice, and I'll drop them into this blog during February.

    Meanwhile...if anyone has that parka jacket...can I have it back?

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  1. The Shape Of Things To Come

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 1 Feb 08, 11:11 PM

    BBC Inverness January 2008

    I know a few diary readers like to follow the progress of the BBC Inverness refurbishment project. It's moved from fairly quiet demolition and into very noisy construction.

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  1. Deep And Crisp And Leaving

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 1 Feb 08, 07:00 PM

    Kingussie train station

    After five nights away from home I was determined to beat the weather and make it back to Inverness this morning. I was on the road at half past six, listening to the traffic reports on Good Morning Scotland and hoping against hope that the police wouldn't close the snow gates on the A9. Hope, however, is the thing with feathers and my pluck was running out.

    I got as far as Dunblane before the news came through that four lorries were stuck on the road south of Inverness and then it was official...the snow gates were closed at Blair Atholl. There was no way I could get home by car.

    So I continued into Perth city centre, found a long-term car-park (£9 a week) and checked the train timetable at the station. I had an hour an a half to kill before the next service to Inverness so I wandered into town. Most of the shops were not yet open but I noticed that the civic Christmas decorations were still hanging from some of the buildings. It was the first day of February but it felt like December. I suddenly had a craving for mince pies.

    The train, when it came, was on time and had lots of empty seats. It was almost fun to watch the landscape turn from green to white and see two young deer scamper across the snowy fields. I ordered a hot chocolate from the catering trolley and began to hum a little ditty about King Wenceslas.

    No snow in Inverness when I arrived just twenty-five minutes late. All was well. I just have to remember to pick up my car next week.

    Weather permitting, of course.

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