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Archives for November 2009

About Last Week

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:36 UK time, Sunday, 29 November 2009


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It all started to go wrong when that waiter chucked a glass of gin and tonic over me. An accident, of course. I thinked he tripped on the carpet and I leapt up just in time to avoid being clattered by ice cubes and a slice of lemon, but at such a violent angle that I could actually hear something go pop in my neck. I wouldn't mind, but I've been alcohol-free since the start of October and then I get drenched in someone else's booze.

That was Sunday night in Aberdeen. When I was leaving the city the following afternoon I had a stiff neck and also a bit of a sore throat and the start of a cough. I bought some flu-remedy in the new Union Square shopping mall connected to the train station. Very nice it is too. The mall, that is, not the flu remedy.

Tuesday morning I was at the BBC's offices at Tun in Edinburgh to be interviewed by Mike Wilson from They've just revamped their website and it now includes podcast interviews with folk in the Scottish media. When I agreed to be quizzed I didn't expect I'd be running a temperature and sounding like I have one clothes peg on my nose and another on my tonsils.

Tuesday night I staggered aboard the train to Glasgow and by now I was shaking and shivering and starting to babble. Not exactly talking to myself, but random words were starting to slip out and disturb fellow passengers.


I got a table to myself, not surprisingly.

On Wednesday morning I was in such a state that I had to throw in the towel and head home. You'll recall it was a wet and miserable day across most of Scotland. Not the kind of day you want to be travelling. Not when you're feeling like one of the undead. Of course the trains were delayed and there's only so much comfort you can get from those cups of instant chicken soup they serve from the drinks trolley. I think I might have asked the trolley-man to tuck me in with a hot water bottle, but maybe not.

At about four o'clock in the afternoon, the train finally trundled into Inverness and Mrs. Zed was waiting for me in the family ambulance. Ten minutes later I was in bed and that's where I've been until today in fact.

I listened to loads of radio, mind you...and even managed to scratch out a few notes and comments on what I heard.

Back in the office tomorrow, I hope.

Desperate Comedy

Jeff Zycinski | 12:27 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009



Those Desperate Fishwives were back in action last night and, for the first time, I actually got the chance to see them live on stage. A train from Inverness , a quick rendezvous with Jemma Rodgers (BBC Scotland's new comedy supremo) and then a mad dash to the Aberdeen Arts Centre meant we even had time to mingle with some local legends tahnks to some pre-show hospitality laid on by the theatre's managers.

Former colleagie Jane Franchi spotted me immediately and lost no tell in telling me that she had been a fan of the Desperate Fishwives long before BBC Radio Scotland discovered them.

"Of course we know them as the Flying Pigs, " she explained as she described how their normal stage show is much more visual and animated than what we ask them to do for radio.


Next person to catch my eye was our very own Robbie Shepherd who often finds himself the butt of the Fishwives' jokes. He only had one complaint. The portray him as an eccentric character with a love of a paritculat brand of blended whisky.

"I don't drink that paraffin," he declared, before revealing his favourite Malt.

And then there was Buff Hardie, yes he of Scotland The What fame, whose son one of the Fishwife boys. Like I say, local legends at every turn.

As we were led to our seats Jemma found herself rubbing shoulderS with Aberdeen's Provost who kept a careful eye on us during the performance just to make sure we were laughing in all the right places and understanding the local dialect and references.

I reckoned about ten percent of the material was lost on me - the Glaswegian living in Inverness - while Jemma - who hails from that England - said her drop-out rate was a bit higher.

"But it's just like being in New York, " I said, "and hearing gags about the Bronx and New Jersey. You don't quite get all of it, but you pick it up from the context."

Jemma agreed.


And the show had many, many laugh-out-loud, tear-wiping moments. I promise you.

And the best news?

We were recording it all for the radio and you'll be able to hear five brand new episodes of Desperate Fishwives in the week leading up to Christmas, including a special Christmas Day episode too.

Do look out for 'Robbie Shepherd' as the shopping centre Santa!

Plucking For Pudsey

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:03 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009



Last Sunday our roving reporter Richard Cadey picked up his guitar and embarked on a busking tour of Scotland. There was, however, a snag. He couldn't actually play the guitar and his singing voice could be described, tactfully, as "untrained". Nevertheless he was determined to raise cash for Children in Need and so he taught himself a few chords and learned the words to 'Rockin' All Over The World'.

I caught up with him today - with minders Dave Flynn and Lindsay Gillies - at the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness. They'd arrived in the city last night and went immediately to the Bjornn Again gig at the Iroworks. Apparently the crowd there was generous and enthusiastic especially when told that the sooner Richard raised five hundred pounds then the sooner he could leave town. After that, the money just poured into the collecting buckets.


But today, I arrived on the scene and Richard was clearly so shocked to see me that he broke his plectrum. That's the third one he's broken this week and so I took him round the corner to The Music Shop where he begged for free replacements in the name of Pudsey.

The manager, Diane, gave us a ffew quizzical glances but finally opened up a little plectrum display cabinet and led Richard have his, er, pick.

It's amazing what people will do when you mention that injured bear. I wonder if I can try the same trick at the supermarket tonight.

Poisoning Pudsey After Dark

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:26 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

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I've been dumped by Pudsey! Can you believe it? I was all set to take part in tonight's Staff Talent Show at Pacific Quay but now - just hours before curtain-up - I've been told that I'm "no longer required". Apparently they have just too many younger folk willing to show-off and pretend it's all about raising money for Children in Need. Who are they kidding? They're all hoping this will be their big break. Hoping they'll be spotted by an eagle-eyed TV producer. Hoping they'll be offered their own show within a week.

At least, that's what I was hoping.

Of course last week, when BBC Scotland's Head of Drama sent me a flattering e-mail asking me to take part, I feigned reluctance for a good few minutes before finally caving in. I like to play hard to get, but not too hard to get. Easy to get, in fact.

Then I spent the odd hour or twelve practising my act, refining my script, tweaking my jokes and - most of all - rehearsing my song.

Oh yes, It was all set to be one of those Susan Boyle moments. A slightly overweight Scottish person with unconventinal good looks would take to the stage, bewilder the judges with some left-field remarks and then astonish the audience with a singing voice that no one was really expecting.

I had been working on a special version of the Tom Lehrer classic 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' only I was going to replace the word 'pigeons' with "Pudseys". Topical, you see. Topical and ever so slightly tasteless. Edgy stuff. I even had a little dance to go with it. Nothing fancy, just a few body-pops. I had ruled out belly-dancing in case I took someone's eye out.

But now that song and dance routine will never see the light of day.

I'm not bitter. It's all about what's best for the charity, after all. Tonight I plan to bake some special Pudsey cakes and sell them to my colleagues tomorrow.

Hope no one notices the funny taste.

So Now I Own A Railway

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:41 UK time, Wednesday, 18 November 2009


East-Coast-Train.jpgI write so often about rail journeys on this blog that people often accuse me of being a train-spotter. Not that there's anything wrong with spotting trains, but I'm not that way inclined. I like show-tunes, though, so you can read into that whatever you like. Why else do you think I keep re-commissioning Dress Circle? Surely I'm allowed one or two indulgences?

Oh I know, I know. It's that kind of remark that keeps getting me into trouble. I can hear the complaints already...

"Hey Fatso, you are running Radio Scotland like it's your own personal train set. Quit it."

And that's just the staff meetings.

But this morning I realised that I do actually own an actual railway company. Well, part of it.

And so do you if you live in the U.K. and pay your taxes.

Yes the East Coast service from Inverness to London has been nationalised. It used to be run by National Express and before that by some other private company. But this morning, when I boarded the 0755 to Kings Cross (changing at Stirling en route to Glasgow) I noticed the coach livery had changed. The East Coast logo was vaguley similar to pseudo-Soviet branding. That's either deliberate, a designer's in-joke or else an indication that the job had to be done in a hurry.

I had some misgivings as I climbed aboard. I had come to like the National Express way of doing things. The coaches were always clean and fresh (in the mornings) and you got free wi-fi even in standard class. What, I wondered, would nationalisation mean? Would they be dusting off those old British Rail sandwiches from the 'seventies? Would the carriages be patrolled by a squad of commissars demanding to check our papers? Would they be executing the posh folk in Business Class?

No. Nothing revolutionary at all. It all seemed the same, really. Apart from the posters telling us that this is "Your Railway" .

So it's true. I own a railway and that's not a wind-up.

The Canadian Connection

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:08 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009


terry-macleod.jpgThere's a Canadian theme to this week's History Zone and I'm warning you now that you had better have the tissues ready.

CBC Presenter, Terry MacLeod is your host for five and a half hours of programmes which explore the links between Scotland and Canada. Included in that is a special edition of CBC's Vinyl Cafe and the story of a Canadian family searching for Scottish links in a quest that takes to the war cemeteries of France.

Lizzy Clark, our Zones supremo, has strong links with Canada herself. They began ten years ago when she took part in a job-swap with a producer at CBC Radio in Winnipeg. That's also when she became aware that Winnipeg had been one of the main destinations for settlers from Kildonan and Selkirk. The city streets have many Scottish place names - Nairn, Douglas, McGregor, MacDougal and so on.

Lizzy tells me that it during that period that she first met Terry MacLeod and it was also when she developed a real taste for single malt whisky.

She wont say if the two things are connected.

(You can hear the new History Zone from tomorrow via the BBC Radio Scotland website or on the BBCiPlayer)

The Calman Commission

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:20 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009


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I've really enjoyed listening to Susan Calman present the MacAulay & Co show this week. She's witty, clever, warm and seems to have a natural talent for radio. I tell you, if I were commissioning programmes on BBC Radio Scotland I would snap her up and offer her a regular gig. Oh, hang on...those nice folk in BBC contracts hate me talking out loud about that kind of stuff. Sorry.

Susan was on top form this morning as she interviewed comedy pal Ed Byrne and got to talking about that new book in which celebrities have written a letter to their sixteen year old selves. Most of the advice was about not worrying about silly stuff like how you look and how you dress (something that has never given me a single fret - obviously) and about how every experience in life can turn out to be useful.

Susan, who qualified to practise law, said she has never regretted that course of study, even though she eventually gave it all up to become a stand-up comedian. She's been on the comedy scene for a good wee while but this past year she seems to be in demand from all sorts of people. I was discussing this with Comedy Unit producer Gus Beattie recently and I suggested that Susan would be on my list of top ten Scottish comedians guaranteed to be even more successful in 2010. Kevin Bridges is another.

I've seen Susan in a live sketch show in Glasgow and she's a brilliant visual perfomer as well as being a great writer and teller of funny stories. Her blogs entries on Facebook are just a treat to read. Recently she came up with the brilliantly funny idea of shortening horror films by ensuring the central characters don't make those cliched stupid mistakes early on in the story. You know, don't explore the old ruined house, don't go back for a handbag etc.

The photograph below shows Susan taking command of BBC Radio Scotland's Topical & Events team. She's the one at the front.

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Martin Stepek's Polish Paper Trail

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:10 UK time, Tuesday, 3 November 2009


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Martin Stepek clearly recalls the moment when he realised he was a bit Polish.

It was at a Scotland-Poland international at Hampden. He'd been invited to the match alongside a group of his father's friends and many of them were old soldiers or sailors.

"A few of them were wearing their military medals, " Martin explains, "and they stood to attention as the Polish national anthem was played. Some had tears in their eyes."

It made Martin think of the families - brothers, sisters, parents - that many of them had left behind during the Second World War. He remembered one man describing how he had buried his dead brother in shallow earth in a Siberian labour camp.

"Until then I had always thought of myself as completely Scottish...but that was the blip."

Martin came in to see me tonight at Pacific Quay and told me how he had spent the last eight years researching his own family history. He produced a huge lever-arch file stuffed with old photographs, letters, maps and postcards...many dating back to the early years of the twentieth century. There were documents too. We tend to think of wartime Europe as a place of chaos and yet the bureaucracy of governments functioned well enough to record the movement of entire populations - even those being sent to their deaths.

The story of Martin's father is remarkably similar to my own father's experiences. As young men, both were imprisoned in Siberia until the Soviet Union sided with the Allies and allowed the Poles to join the free army or navy. Both joined the navy and both settled in Scotland after the war after marrying Scottish girls.

Mister Stepek Snr. started a chain of electrical stores that were well known in Lanarkshire and the east end of Glasgow. Martin now runs the Scottish Family Business Association and lectures on the strengths and weaknesses of such business models.

But our meeting tonight was like encountering a kindred spirit. We discovered we both wish we could speak fluent Polish. We talked about that slight sense of feeling like an 'outsider' when people talk about Scottish ancestry, although both our mothers were of Scots-Irish descent.

And I discovered we had one more thing in common. We both have blogs...and here is the link to Martin's.

Another November In Inverness

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:43 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009



One year ago I embarked on this plan to take a photograph of Inverness from exactly the same spot every month. Well, another November has come around and, as you can see, not much has changed although the weather is a lot milder today than it was twelve months ago. Not much colour on the trees and no snow on the hills either.

Luckily we're not experiencing anything like the rain and flooding that they've been enduring along the Moray coast and Aberdeenshire.

I'll take one more photograph next month and then I might (finally) get around to that moving slideshow I promised.

Here's the photograph from last November.

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Making History

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:05 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009



This month sees the return of Scotland's History, BBC Scotland's landmark project which involves television, radio, online, the BBC SSO and live events.

Neil Oliver presents the television series - A History of Scotland - and he's also fronting the new series of audio walks - Walking Through History - which we produce in partnership with the Open University. The walks can be heard on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday morning at 1130 (starting next week) and are also available to download on to your MP3 player.

On Thursday morning our biography series - In The Footsteps.. also returns and each programme will focus on a character that features in the television series.

There's a logic behind all of this and it involves the research we conducted after the first few months of Scotland's History at the start of the year. Viewers and listeners told us that they wanted programmes that offered more information about the events described in the TV series. Previously the radio programmes had offered tales and information about aspects of Scottish history that hadn't been mentioned in the TV programmes.

On Sunday 29th Novemember there's an added treat as we broadcast the History of Scotland concert from the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The BBC SSO will be performing music from the series and Eddie Reader will be among a great line up of guests. Tickets are now available.

Then on Monday 7th December there will be a special debate on Scottish History in the Investigation slot.

Meanwhile we have other history programmes which aren't part of the official season.

Look out for Billy Kay's programme The Dundee Ripper next Friday morning and the The Spies Who Knew Too Much a week later and in December Susan Morrison explore the history of Edinburgh prostitution in The Ladies of Pleasure.

Allk that plus our History Zone available on the BBC Radio Scotland website 24 hours a day and via the BBC iPlayer

Phew. Who knew history could be so exciting?

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