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Archives for June 2009

Farewell Alva

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:54 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009



"This," I said, "is one of the best prize-giving ceremonies I have ever seen."

I was sitting at the top table on the stage of the brand new Alva Academy. The Rector, John Meney had just paid fulsome tribute to the BBC SoundTown project and had read out a long list of activities that had taken place over the past nine months. That had included live radio shows, news reports, workshops and a concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. More that fifty different events, in fact.

As the teachers got down to the business of handing out the sports prizes, a line of crash mats were placed in front of the school orchestra. Young gymnasts, dressed in school uniform, were called to the stage to receive their certificates. Each took a running jump towards a trampoline and performed back flips and somersaults before casually walking up the steps like it was the most natural thing in the world. Much cheering and applause from proud parents.

Then, towards the end of the ceremony, the soon-to-depart sixth-formers were despatched into the hall to present gifts to various teachers. Each gift was beautifully wrapped and connected by a ribbon to a floating balloon. Soon those balloons were dotted around the hall, with a moist-eyed teacher clinging on to each one. It was utterly charming.

Equally emotional was the rendition of Caledonia sung by Gamuchirai Nhengu.
It's the best performance of that song I have ever heard and, I tell you, that girl is destined for stardom.

The inspirational speech was given by my former BBC colleague Alison Walker, who spoke about how shy she had been when at school, but how her career in sports journalism had allowed he to meet and interview some of the finest players and athletes in the world.

I also had a couple of prizes to awards. There was the framed CD copy of the school hit song 'The Haggis' which had soared into the Scottish and iundie charts and raised hundreds of pounds for Comic Relief.

And there was the SoundTown trophy which we gave to Laura Leitch. She had impressed us all throughout the year with her technical know-how in the school studio. I'm told she's planning to pursue a career in music and sound engineering.

A great night and as we emerged into the fresh air just before ten o'clock, the sun was still shining on the Ochil Hills.

Thanks Alva. We're going to miss you.

Young Jazz Musician 2009

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:39 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009


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Another year and another winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Jazz Musician competition. It's the third year we've teamed up with the Glasgow International Jazz Festival and the Scottish Jazz Federation for this event. Tonight was a bit different in that we decided on a live broadcast from the Old Fruitmaket. All went smoothly, although we had eight minutes to fill before the ten o'clcok news which our new winner - 19 year old double bassists, Andrew Robb - managed to do with ease.

You can see exclusive video from the event here.

Here are a few more photographs from tonight.

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:15 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009


"Whatever you do, " said the woman, "don't try to use the lifts. My husband has been stuck in this one for more than an hour."

This was in the multi-storey car park in Candleriggs, just a short walk from tonight's Young Jazz event at the Old Fruitmarket. I'd left my hired car on the third floor and do remember thinking the lift doors were a bit slow to open when I'd got out. Now, three hours later, I was trying to shove a ten pound note into an unwilling ticket payment machine when the woman told me about her husband's plight.

"You mean he's in there?" I said, pointing at the lift . At that point I saw some fingers claw at the door edge and a muffled voice suggested that if I helped pull from the other side it might just budge. But it was no use and I worried we might be doing more harm than good. Broken fingers wouldn't help the situation.

The woman told me she had called for help an an attendant had appeared, but now he had gone on to find someone else. She looked about fifty (the husband had sounded much older). She had tears in her eyes and patted her chest to indicate that her heart was fluttering. She look really distressed and I could only imagine what the poor hubby was going through.

"Can I get you something? Water maybe."

"No, no, don't worry about me. I'll just wait for the experts and if they don't show up I'll call the Fire Brigade."

I felt pretty useless and too guilt-stricken to just do nothing, so I decided to ignore her instructions and went out on to Trongate in search of a place to buy bottled water. Not easy at half past ten at night, but I found a burger bar, bought a cup of hot, sweet tea, a bottle of water and picked up a straw. I reckoned there might be enough space between the door and the wall to squeeze a straw through.

But all of this took far too long and by the time I got back the couple had gone. The lift doors were still closed but there was no 'Out of Order' sign.

It's waiting for its next victim.

DAB On The Road

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:32 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009



A sweltering journey down the A9 this afternoon - in a hired car. I'm doing a bit of zig-zagging across the country for the next few days, so the train was no use. It took me half an hour to work out how to operate the air conditioning by which time I had discovered the car was equipped with a DAB radio.

No signal on that until I reached Perth, of course, and then a chance to hear how some of the local commercial stations sounded now that they are networking programmes across the country. It was odd to hear a well-known Radio Clyde D.J. on Radio Tay, but there's a slick system which adds in lots of local 'idents' and even a short 'what's on' guide for the local area. The D.J. sitting in Clydebank is obviously very careful not to make specific mention of his whereabouts...and the saving grace is the familiar music which, on DAB, sounds a lot better than it does on Medium Wave.

This, for better or worse, is the changing landscape of radio in Scotland and my news colleague Jamie McIvor wrote a piece about that last week. It's worth a read.

A Gruffalo? Our Book Cafe Team Have It Covered.

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:36 UK time, Monday, 22 June 2009


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Photographs reaching me from the Borders Book Festival in Melrose show that a strange creature was mingling with the weekend crowds. No, it wasn't one of our audio engineers. How dare you! It was, rather, a Gruffalo who had stepped from the pages of the famous childrens' books created by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Carolyn Becket, who is the senior producer of our Book Cafe programme, tells me that Gruffalo's don't like getting wet and that a BBC Radio Scotland tablecloth was pressed into service to protect it from the elements overnight.

The Cafe team have been recording various sessions from the festival which you'll be able to hear in the coming weeks. That couldn't happen without the skill of audio engineers like Joanna Lee and, as you can see from the photograph below, she looks nothing like a Gruffalo.

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Father's Day Angst

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:45 UK time, Sunday, 21 June 2009



Three years ago I relocated from Glasgow to Inverness and since then I keep looking for little signs to assure me I did the right thing. Obviously I take great pleasure in being the Out-of-Glasgow pest at BBC Scotland meetings, constantly reminding my colleagues that there is life, culture - even sport - outside the central belt. Most times they give me a sympathetic hearing. Sometimes they beat me up and lock me in the cleaners' cupboard. It balances out.

I was most worried about the impact on my family, especially since it involved our two children moving schools. My daughter, I'm proud to say, is doing very well after two years at Secondary school. She was among the prize-winners at a ceremony last week attended by the Provost of Inverness. To the surprise of many parents, his speech touched on the expenses scandal at Westminster and how the Highlands might benefit from global water shortages. All this in a brand new, state-of the art school where the temperature and air conditioning is computer-controlled. Naturally that means were all expiring in the heat and the Head Girl almost fainted while giving her speech from the platform. That stuff about water shortages felt very real.

My son, likewise, is doing well at Primary school and Saturday was a very emotional day for us. It was his last time playing for the school football team and he was taking part in a tournament involving all the primary schools in and around Inverness. Four hours of high drama involving head injuries and missed penalties, but eventually they won the competition and were awarded the cup. Lots of happy wee faces.

It's this kind of community infrastructure that makes Inverness such a good place to live, but still there's that nagging doubt about whether or not we should have moved from Glasgow.


So, what with it being Father's Day, I thought I'd do a little spot check. After getting breakfast in bed and a balloon shaped like a pint of lager, I asked my children for their opinion on my parenting decisions. My daughter chastised me for having taken so long to buy her a dog. My son complained that I hadn't done more to keep Inverness Caley Thistle in the SPL. (He seems to think our sport department have had some say in this.)

But their biggest complaint?

"You should have moved us back to Inverness years ago."

London Calling

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:54 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009



"Where are you calling from?" asked Mrs Z.

"I'm standing on the Star Terrace at Television Centre," I told her, "and I'm looking straight across at that bit of the building you always see on the telly."

"Oh. What's that like?"

"To be honest, " I said, "The building reminds me of my old comprehensive school. It has that sixties look about it. Tiled exterior wall. Windows wedged open by books. Flaking paintwork. Seen better days really."

"You've just been spoiled by Pacific Quay," said Mrs Z. She's probably right. What am I saying? She's always right.


Along the road at White City and the Media Centre, things are very much in the 21st Century. Even the tea-bar feels like something out of a science fiction movie, with TV pictures being screened onto a huge split globe in which you can sit and have creative meetings.

I was actually between two such meetings so I took the opportunity to pop up to the offices of Ariel - the BBC staff newspaper - and introduce myself to reporter Laura Scarrot. She recognised me immediately, she said, because she reads this blog.

"You're just back from France aren't you?" said Laura.

", you must have been reading someone else's blog."

"Oh. Maybe I was."

So fickle, these Beeb people.

You Say Tomato, I Say Whatever

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:35 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009


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I used to think that Londoners were a bit rude, but now I realise I was wrong. They're simply short of time. I base this new theory on a series of small events I witnessed while travelling across the vast metropolis this evening. The first was on a slow train from Gatwick to Victoria. A French chap sitting next to me was poring over a printed sheet of travel instructions which might have been given to him by friends or colleagues. He asked my advice on various train connections but, as a stranger here myself, I wasn't much help to him. When the conductor arrived my French chum thrust the paper towards him and sought an expert opinion.

"Do I change once or go on straight?"

The conductor who had, hitherto, been checking tickets at Olympic speed, took the time to read the print-out and advise the man that he should make a change at the next stop.
All well and good, but the Frenchman wanted confirmation.

"The next stop? You mean I don't stay on this train?"

"No, "said the conductor, hurrying on, "just do as it says on the paper."

It sounded rude but, as I reckon the conductor felt he had allocated enough time to this query. Thirty seconds, in fact.

Later tonight I found myself wandering around Notting Hill, collecting free newspapers from eager vendors and being one of the few people with time to take a leaflet about "God's Purpose" from a very nice woman who smiled at me in a way that made me think I might not be past saving.

I popped into a supermarket in search of any kind of food that would prevent me from ordering room service in my hotel. Chicken legs and bananas, as it turned out.

At the checkout I had the good fortune to be standing behind a woman with a tinned tomato problem. Unable to find a single, unbashed tin of her preferred brand, she had torn one from a multi-pack of four. The checkout girl explained that this tin would not scan and that she could either buy all four or choose something else.

"But I want one tin of that brand of tomatoes!" said the customer.

At this point, the checkout girl abandoned her post to go and search for said tin and came back triumphant, holding the can aloft and smiling. But, I hate to tell you, there was a tiny bash in that tin too. Oh yes.

There followed a two-minute tirade from the customer who refused an offer to speak to the manager by saying that the staff on the checkout were "the manager's representatives on the shop floor".

It sounded almost Biblical.

The checkout girl listened but, just like the train conductor, she clearly felt she had allocated enough time to this problem.

"Whatever," was her only response, and the tomato woman stormed out of the shop.

And I had sympathy for the girl. In London, you see, it takes so long to get anywhere. People seem to spend hours on tube train, buses or just waiting to cross roads. I'm guessing that's why they don't have the time to deal, at length, with lost or unhappy customers or to accept a leaflet about how peace and life can be "abundant and external". (no other readining matter in this hotel)

Besides, my bananas were getting warm and even I was running out of patience.

A Hairy Moment For John Beattie

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:25 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009



For some reason the top talent here at BBC Radio Scotland keep turning up at other radio stations. Well, at least they have the courtesy to let me know.

The latest moonlighter is John Beattie who accepted an invitation from Camglen community radio in Cambuslang . He was a guest on the Saturday evening Camglen sports show, hosted by two twelve year old lads, Niall Rooney and Craig Gillies, whose dad Tommy is a fans of John's Sports Weekly programme.
As research they had been listening to John hosting MacAulay & Co last week , and one topic covered was shaving bodily hair. John said he nearly fells of his chair when he was asked: "And do you think you would have been a better rugby player if your back had been hairier?"

The photo, by the way, was taken by John's wife, Jill.

Jerked Back In Time

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:11 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009


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The last time I was in Los Angeles, I spotted a massive billboard at the corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. It was advertising a brand of beef jerky with the proud boast that this particular firm had been making jerky "since 1971".

There was something about that date that didn't seem right. Had the jerky people been drying meat since the19th century, I might have been more inclined believe they possessed some kind of Wild West know-how. But the seventies? Not exactly ancient history.

I thought of that today while in Aberdeen. I was killing time before catching a train back to Inverness and I had a wee saunter through the Kirk of St Nicholas on Union Street. It's well worth a visit just now because it's in the middle of a big renovation project and there's an archeological dig going on. Inside the church they've built a glass wall which allows you to look down into the dig site. You can see the foundation of the previous churches that have been built on that location. You are, in fact, looking back in time...right back to the 11th Century. It's fascinating.

But then, hurrying back to the train station, I passed a fast-food takeaway place that claims to be the "first in Aberdeen" for kebabs. I'm not sure if this meant they were the first choice for meat on a stick or whether this, like the jerky thing, was an historical claim to be the first to have sold such delicacies in the Granite City.

One day archaeologists might dig them up about that.

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You're The One That I Tip

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:11 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009


The woman driving the taxi looked like Olivia Newton John. To be precise, she looked like ONJ playing the part of 'Sandy' in the movie Grease. I thought the resemblance was slight, but the guys on the rank at Aberdeen train station are saying she's a doppelganger. Some of them are texting her about this as she drives me up to the BBC at Beechgrove Terrace.

"My hair goes like this in the summer, "said Sandy, "but the guys are teasing me because I played a trick on my husband. He's a taxi driver too."

Sandy's hubby, it turned out, is a big Ted Nugent fan.

"Ted Nugent. American rock musician. Most folk in Aberdeen have never heard of him but we were in Glasgow a few weeks ago and my man was wearing a Ted Nugent t-shirt. He was convinced someone in Glasgow would notice it and mention it."

Alas, as it neared the of end the trip, not a single Glaswegian had done either. So they're having a meal in a restaurant and while Sandy's partner nips to the loo she bribes a waitress to make a fuss of her man's t-shirt when the time comes to pay the bill.

"Oh My God!" screams the young waitress, going slightly over the top, "is that a Ted Nugent t-shirt? I just love his music!"

Aberdeen's Number One Nugent fan is delighted and gives Sandy his best I-told-you-so face. She then plays a double bluff to keep the con going.

"I bet you paid that waitress to say that, "she says, "Coz she's obviously faking it."

"No. I swear I didn't. Honestly."

And so it goes on for several hours until finally she caves in and tells him the truth.

"You've really burst my bubble," he tells her, crestfallen.

And that, explains Sandy, is why all the taxi drivers are ganging up on her and teasing her about her ONJ hairstyle.

By now we're at Beechgrove Terrace.

"That was quick, "I tell her and, when I'm safely out of the car, I add one more thing:

"It was liked Greased Lightning."

RockNess Style

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:37 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009


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"You could have made a bit of an effort," complained one of the producers as I arrived at the Rock Ness festival site in my suit and office shoes. I had, however, taken my tie off in a token nod towards the carefree spirit required for the event. Truth is, I was just paying a flying visit to say hello to presenters - Vic Galloway, Jim Gellatly and Martell Maxwell - and to take some photographs of the site before the litter frenzy began.

It really is a fantastic venue for a music festival and this afternoon, with the sun glistening on Loch Ness, I was almost tempted to loosen another button on my shirt.


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The Future Is Digital

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:04 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009


I could be about to describe a horrible anxiety dream, but I'm not. The truth is I gave a presentation to some of the top bods in the radio industry during which I actually offered to strip naked and run around the room.

I'll get to the reason for that in a moment, but let me tell you a little bit more about the actual event. It was organised by Ofcom Scotland whose Director Vicki Nash greeted us all as we arrived at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Glasgow. By 'us' I mean a real variety of radio people drawn from the commercial and community sector and one or two folk from the BBC. We were there to talk about the future of radio in the digital world.

The most controversial speaker was Quentin Howard, President of the World DAB Forum. It's his job, he said, to tell people that DAB is the future for radio broadcasters, not just in the U.K. but in Europe and across the world. He listed country after country where DAB was taking off and where listeners would get added value from visual content on their sets and so on. He reminded me of one of those RAF officers you used to see in war movies. The ones who would stand in front of a map briefing the fighter pilots on their next mission.

"Of course, "he said, acknowledging there have been outspoken critics of the platform, "there are a few DAB terrorists out there who like to throw bombs at us and walk away. These people should be shot."

This extreme description of a DAB-doubter prompted quite a reaction from my colleagues in the commercial radio sector who say that have "sunk" £200 million into DAB in the past ten years but have seen no return on their money. There were stories of people who could only get a signal if they took their DAB sets to an upstairs bedroom. Others talked about the lack of actual sets that were available. In-car DAB was still a rare thing.

Quentin allowed that DAB had got off to a poor start in this country unlike Australia which, he said, had had a textbook launch. That didn't seem to make anyone feel better.

In the afternoon we heard from Lisa Kerr, the External Affairs Director at the Commercial Radio Companies Association. She talked about the challenges facing the industry - mainly economic - but also threw in a video of a radio stunt in which a man stripped naked in the studio and was then led out into the street. There was more to it than that, I'm sure, but by that time I had taken my seat at the front table and I couldn't quite follow what was happening on the screen behind me.

When it came my turn to speak about our online Zones experiment I admitted to the audience that I had no similar video with which to keep their attention.

"But if there's a lull, " I said, "I could strip off myself and run around the room."

Laughter, of course, but no real encouragement to actually do it.


Entering A New Galaxy

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:45 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009



Tonight's meeting of the Radio Academy's Scottish Branch was held in the offices of Galaxy radio at Pacific Quay in Glasgow. A two minute walk for me, of course, but my first glimpse inside our neighbour's studios (housed inside a former tram repair depot) so I got a guided tour from the boss Stuart Barrie.

I was intrigued by the sheer effort that goes into to networking those programmes that come from Galaxy's H.Q. in London. Stuart talked me through a complex computerised playout system that allows the D.J. down south to insert local links into the programmes that are heard in Scotland. That might include a reference to the weather in Edinburgh or a joke about something funny that had happened on the Glasgow-produced breakfast show.
It was incredibly slick and requires a completely different skill-set from our own presenters.
Imagine Fred MacAulay telling a joke in the Glasgow studio, but also pressing a button to ensure that the punchline referenced Inverness, Aberdeen or Selkirk, depending on where you were listening.

The meeting itself confirmed Jay Crawford (of Real Radio) as the new chair of the Scottish branch and I know that Jay plans to be very vocal about the problems facing the industry in Scotland and the impact on local jobs.

He might get his first chance to do that tomorrow morning. He, like me, will be attending a day long conference on radio organised by OFCOM. I'm doing a turn on our online Zones and talking about the challenges of the digital age.

More on that tomorrow night.

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It's That Dog Again

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:21 UK time, Tuesday, 9 June 2009



The big news - the really big news - is that my dog, Rascal, got a haircut today. I thought this photograph might satisfy all those people who e-mail asking for updates on our family pet. I also get requests for my thoughts on the future of broadcasting but, well, mainly you ask about the dog.

In fact no one really asks about the other stuff. I lied.

Playing In The Street

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:52 UK time, Tuesday, 9 June 2009


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A convoy of portable toilets has been spotted heading up the A9 towards Inverness. No one has reported an associated convoy of prunes so this can only mean there is a rock festival taking place. Sure enough, it's the RockNess festival at Dores this weekend. It's been described as "one of the most atmospheric outdoor music events in Europe" - but only by me and just then. Naturally BBC Radio Scotland will be covering it and I might even mosey along myself. I must remember to iron my denims and launder my crazy 'Joker' t-shirt so that I don't stick out like a sore pinky.

Meanwhile the streets of Inverness are already alive to the sound of music. This lunchtime, for example, I was amzed to find the Austrailian rock/folk band The Wishing Well playing to a crowd of sun-drenched shoppers.

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And as if that wasn't thrilling enough, you could walk fifty yards along the street and find the Bang On Boogie Band (all one of him) playing to a slightly smaller audience of onlookers.

It's all so exciting that I might even start tapping my feet.

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I Realised The Way Your Eyes Deceived Me

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:55 UK time, Monday, 8 June 2009


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The latest photographs from our SoundTown project are bound to conjur up some bittersweet memories for many listeners. They were taken on Friday night at the Alva Academy school disco which featured live music from the up and coming band Jakil (lead singer Kieran is pictured with two new fans) and a live broadcast from our Music Bed presenters Jim Gellatly and Martel Maxwell.

But, for me, those very words 'School Disco' can recover more supressed memories than a session of hypnotherapy. Suddenly I'm back in Primary 7, Marie Osmond is singing Paper Roses and I'm in a slow dance with a statuesque girl called Yvonne. Tonight is about romance, but tomorrow will be about playground teasing and then week after week of ridicule.

Or maybe it's memories of Secondary school and being frisked for concealed bottles of booze by the P.E. teachers. And then standing around with the other boys, slagging off the D.J.s choice of music and watching the girls have a much better time on the dance floor than we were having loitering at the crisps stall.

Of course that was then and this is now and teenagers today are a lot more sophisticated than we were.

Aren't they?

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The Fastest Growing City In Europe

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:42 UK time, Saturday, 6 June 2009


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Six days in to our 30 Days In Europe season and I can't ignore the fact that I live in "the fastest growing city in Europe". That phrase is used so often in Inverness yet I do have some trouble locating its factual origin. I've read predictions that the city is set to grow by 40% in the next ten years by which time the population will have increased to 100,000 people. Again, I'm not sure who has made the calculation and on what basis. I also have trouble working out what is actually powering this growth or why there seems to be such a demand for new houses here.

I have read that Inverness ranks in the top five of 185 British cities for "quality of life". I also met a PhD student who wrote his thesis on the population growth in the Highlands and he suggested that it all stemmed from the various property booms in London. Apparently lots of people sold their flats in London used the cash to fund a Highland dream house with associated land. Then, later in life, they realised it would be more sensible to move closer to a city - and its hospital and doctors - and so moved from rural areas into Inverness.

I don't know if that's true, but I can tell you that the growth remains visible every day of the week. The photograph below shows the construction of a road that will link the southern part of the city with the outlying Milton of Leys area. Sprawl, I think they call it.

But the fastest sprawl in Europe? Hmmm.

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Eat Your Heart Out Ugly Betty

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:23 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009


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I've been looking through some new audience research which tells me that listeners to BBC Radio Scotland would like to hear some more optimistic news in our bulletins and programmes. There's also an appetite for credible Scottish success stories. I stress the word credible because that same research reveals that many of us are a bit cynical of such stories after what happened to the banking industry.

"It looked good on paper, " said one listener in our focus group session, "but it was all smoke and mirrors."

So, in my search for some upbeat news, I scoured my BBC inbox and found the following story about three Scottish students who have.been selected by a panel of external judges to show their work at Graduate Fashion Week in London next week.

Womenswear designers Catherine Duncan (pictured above) from Yorkhill, Carol Tai from Robroyston and Katie Webb from Kirkintilloch will, according to the press release, "each send six stunning creations down the catwalk at Earls Court on Tuesday 9th June amid the glitz and glamour of the UK's fashion capital.

Graduate Fashion Week judges select the best students from fashion schools across the country to show at the event each year, which attracts journalists and fashion scouts from across the globe. The annual event has launched the careers of British designers including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney and had fashion design students snapped up by the likes of Donna Karan, Gucci and Calvin Klein.

The trio, who are final year BA (Hons) Fashion students at Manchester Metropolitan University, all went to Cardonald College in Glasgow. Prior to that Katie attended Lenzie Academy, Carol went to Thomas Muir High School and Catherine to Campbeltown Grammar School. "

All of which goes to prove that there are little bits of good news out there, if you look hard enough for it.

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Are You Laughing At Us Or With Us?

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:39 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009



It's always fun to attend the recording of radio comedy shows, especially if that involves a live audience. The new series of Ellis & Clarke, for example, was recorded at Pacific Quay a few weeks ago and the producer has worked with our online team to provide a few extra treats from behind-the-scenes.

That includes part of the audience "warm-up" routine from Glasgow comedian Raymond Mearns (pictured below). This is a vital part of the process and that was never more true than the time we were recording in the public foyer and the automatic slide doors to the building malfunctioned. They began to emit a horrible high pitched squeak and we had no choice but to jam them open and allow the icy December wind to blast across the Clyde and straight into the audience seating area. Imagine all those eager listeners sittting in their coats, hats and gloves. Luckily we had a few sketches about Christmas so the atmosphere was appropriate.

Usually the warm-up is designed to get an audience in the mood for laughing out loud. Nods and smiles just don't cut it on the radio. I'm sure you know that.

The other thing that live audiences seem to love is when things go wrong. A fluffed line or mis-timed sound effect can often get as big a laugh as a gag from the actual script. This always annoys the writers who are usually sitting among the crowd going through mental somersaults of insecurity.

If you go to the Ellis & Clarke programme page you can hear examples of all of this.


Faces Behind The Voices

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:56 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009


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Apparently you - the listeners - are keen to see more photographs of our presenters. This is dangerous territory because there has always been some truth to that old joke about having a 'face for radio'. That's not true of these three faces. of course.

I give you Richard Cadey, the multi-skilled, animal loving roving reporter on the MacAulay & Co show...and the dynamic duo of Martel Maxwell & Jim Gellatly who you can hear every Friday night on the Music Bed.

Well, you asked for it.

How I Made My Mark On Europe

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:18 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009


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Inspired by our current European season on BBC Radio Scotland, I jumped off the train at Inverness and dashed, eventually, to the polling station to register my vote in today's election. There is something awe-inspiring about the thought of millions of people across the continent doing the same thing at the same time. I suspect, however, that the polling stations in some other countries are a little more sophisticted than the draughty school halls and community centres we have come to expect in Scotland. The Italians are bound to have a coffee bar in theirs.

My polling station, for some reason, was not within walking distance at the nearest Primary school. Instead - because of family logistics - I had to load daughter and dog into the car at nine o'clock tonight and vote in a place called Green Drive...which obviously gives an advantage to one particular party.

So let me tell you how I voted. No, I don't intend to let you know which party I voted for, but to give you an insight into my thought process as I stood in that wooden booth holding the pen on a string.

Naturally I considered the wider European issues such as, er, the demise of Esperanto. Then I thought about that whole moat-cleaning and bath-plug scandal in Westminster. Then I thought about which politicians had sent me the rudest letters in the past year.
Then I looked at the logos of each party on the ballot paper and decided which was the cutest. Then I rememembered that my daughter and dog were waiting for me in the car and I made my mark.

What a huge ballot paper. Luckily there were origami experts on hand to instruct us on how to fold it in such a way that it would fit in the ballot box.

Note to counters: mine is the one that looks like a flying swan.

Talking To Strangers Again

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:16 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009


I've said it before, but it always amazes me how often complete strangers are willing to share their amazing life stories if you just take the time to listen. This afternoon, for example, I climbed into a Glasgow taxi for a fifteen minute journey to Queen Street Station and the driver had me wishing I had a microphone or notebook to hand.

He began by asking me where I was heading and when I mentioned Inverness he then told me about his brother who used to run the local branch of MFI but managed to "jump ship" just before that self-assembly furniture company went bust. He then gave me a second-hand account of of what was happening inside the company in the weeks before its financial plight became public knowledge.

Then, somehow, we talked about the driver's army days. He had spent 17 years in the Scots Guards and saw action in the Falklands war. That included hand-to-hand combat with an Agentinian soldier.

"I was stabbed in the face, " he told me, "a bayonet went from my chin right through to my left cheek. I also lost a kidney in that fight."

After leaving the army he got a job as a bouncer on the door of Glasgow clubs and pubs and was also paid to be the bodyguard to a well-known Radio Clyde disc-jockey. Paid by the D.J.'s father, he said, to protect him fom unsavoury characters when he made personal appearances.

He then gave me his thoughts on commercial radio which, it has to be said, were not entirely favourable...but then neither were his thoughts about BBC radio.

All that for the price of a taxi ride.


Slow Moving Pictures

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:21 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009


One month ago a friend told me that he was heading to California for a "well-earned" break in the sunshine. As you would expect, I called the U.S. Immigration service and bad-mouthed him yet, somehow, he managed to pass through the airport without being strip-searched or water-boarded. Clearly things have gone downhill there since George W. Bush left the White House.

So, last week I supped wine with said friend as he told me about his travels from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Luckily I had taken a similar journey myself some years ago and was able to play a bit part in this alcohol fuelled conversation. He described the scenery along the Pacific Highway, the ex-prisoner signing books in Alcatraz and a star-spotting stroll along Hollywood Boulevard.

That's when I pounced with my killer question.

"Is the Hamburger Hamlet still there?"


"But surely...?"

"'s gone. Let's move on. It's your round."

Now it's not that I doubt my friend in any way, but a day later I e-mailed a former colleague who now works for Disney and, as it happened, she was working in Hollywood at that very moment. The demise of my favourite hamburger restaurant was confirmed. In fact Hollywood Boulevard has changed considerably since my last visit and even relatively modern buildings have been demolished to make way for developments like the Kodak Theatre and the new subway system.

Compare that with Glasgow city centre. In 2006 I wrote about the closure of the Odeon Cinema on Renfield Street. I took a photograph and imagined how the site might be transformed by developers.

Tonight, almost three year later, I took another photograph.

Not quite the overnight change that I imagined.


2006 above, 2009 below

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The Vienna Of My Dreams

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:10 UK time, Monday, 1 June 2009



It has to rank as my second favourite city in Europe. Yes, after Inverness I would have to choose Vienna. I've only been there twice, mind you. The first time was in 1986 when I was studying psychology and had developed a worrying infatuation with Sigmund Freud. This led me to grow a beard and, as you can see in the photograph, hang around the great man's memorial stone wearing skimpy shorts.

I also visited his consulting rooms which have been recreated in the very building where he treated his patients and developed his ideas of a subconscious mind. Years later I realised that Freud's theory of psychonalysis was riddled with mysogynist flaws and I turned my back on notions of the id, ego and super-ego. (My amateur work as a dream interpreter still comes in very handy at parties though.)

I returned to Vienna a few years ago as a simple holiday-maker intent on nothing more mentally challenging than taking in the sights and findlng the place that makes the chocolate torte. It really is a city of the imagination. Its imperial grandeur, its culture of art and music and it's dark history under Nazi annexation. You can walk the streets for hours and never get bored.

It was our website team who asked me to look out this dodgy and discoloured photograph. They're making a online album on the 30 Days in Europe website and if you have a look there you'll see a variety of BBC Radio Scotland personalities in exotic locations.

If you find yourself dreaming about any of them tonight, do let me know.

I'll get my cigar.

Inverness In June

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:43 UK time, Monday, 1 June 2009



Many months ago I promised blog readers that I would to take a photograph of Inverness from the same location every month. Here is how the city looks in the summer sunshine. Yes, it's that time of year when local people decide to sunbathe on the banks of the Ness. That means perching on a short and steep incline of grass. One false move and you're in the water.

Inverness in November.

Inverness in December.

Inverness in May.

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