Let It Snow

What do you mean, what am I doing online on Christmas Day? What are you doing online on Christmas Day?

Anyway this is just really to preserve for posterity the proof that up in Yorkshire there really was a white Christmas for a brief moment. I took the snap to send to Mila the proof and it seemed a shame not to make more use of it.

Under Attack

Five years I’ve lived in London now. Five years in a place which was always sold to me as a grim, dangerous place to live where street crime was rife and it wasn’t safe to go out at night. I never actually paid much attention to such doom-mongers. When I first lived here I lived in Tottenham and loved every minute of it. I’d walk down the High Road to the gym feeling perfectly safe and would think nothing of popping to the shops at midnight for a pint of milk or something. I’d happily tell people that the area was fine, the people were friendly and that nobody ever stabbed you without a really good reason.

In fact I only ever had one unpleasant experience, at the start of September 2001. Maybe I was tired and in a particularly bad mood that night but upon reaching the tube station on the way home I took exception to a young girl attempting to double gate me, sneaking through the barriers behind me on my ticket. The ensuing verbal confrontation deteriorated into her ripping the glasses off my face and hitting me, opening up a cut above my eye. Rather than fight back I was just intent on apprehending her and so the people in the tube station were confronted with the entertaining sight of me clinging tightly to her whilst she fought to get off, raining blows on my head and squeezing my arm to make me release my grip. She was starting to panic when one public spirited man intervened at which point she ran off. The police arrived but nothing ever came of it and I went to hospital to have a stitch put in the impressive boxers cut she had opened up by my eyebrow, resulting in the scar I sport proudly to this day.

Tonight however I was almost caught in the middle of something rather more scary. It was about 5pm and I was taking the bus to collect Mila from her dingy job in a corner shop in East Ham. Upon arrival in Canning Town two young lads boarded and immediately exhorted the driver to hurry up. Their reason? “Some lads are trying to kill us!”

Sure enough as the bus set off down the high street it was clearly being pursued by about five or six locals with angry looks on their faces. It didn’t seem as if they stood much of a chance as the bus accelerated down the road but the traffic lights were against us. One member of the gang on a bicycle successfully blocked the left turn we were about to make and although the driver made him move the delay was enough for the rest of the runners to have caught up.

BLAM

The sound of a bottle of malt slamming into the side of the bus. If they were attempting to shatter the windows it was a failure and the missile clattered harmlessly into the road. Meanwhile the whimpers of the intended victims grew louder as the pursuing gang climbed up the back and pressed the emergency engine cut.

The reaction of my fellow passengers was interesting. The three or four of us on the top deck were in a position to witness all of this from distance, although from the ringing tones emanating from their mobiles a couple were clearly trying to raise the police. Most of the occupants of the bottom deck (many female) decided that bailing was the best answer and when the doors opened they flooded out onto the road – bizarrely taking up position at the bus stop a few yards away as if to wait for the next bus to come along!

The open doors had afforded the aggressors the chance to board and confront their intended victims although this confrontation amounted to little more than some extended verbals and a dawning realisation that the whimpering victims presented little threat to their status or territory (I’m guessing here) and could be allowed to go on their way. As quickly as the situation developed it was all over, the gang disembarked (joining their female companions who had been videoing the whole scene on their mobile), the engine of the bus started up again and we went on out journey as if nothing had happened.

Looking back I regret my inner superman had not elected to fly down the stairs and confront the aggressors – its just that the scar above my eye was really hurting, you know?

The Leaving Party

You know it’s strange. I think I’ve only ever had one office leaving party dedicated to me before. That was back in 1996 when I left the firm of accountants I’d been working for ever since graduation in order to have a proper job on the radio for the first time ever. That night in the pub was characterised by my consuming copious amounts of alcohol, snogging one of the blonde assistants who I’d worked with for years before having to run practically the length of Leeds City Centre in order to catch the last bus home. As a result of that run I remember also having to put into practice the “press your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth” trick in order to avoid vomiting during the bus ride home.

It worked, incidentally.

Since then I’ve not really had the opportunity to get disgracefully drunk in front of people I’d never work with again. When leaving the radio station in Bradford three years later I couldn’t go out after my leaving presentation as I was presenting my last show for the station that very evening. As a result I just slipped out the building in darkness and went off to get on with the rest of my life.

Hence this evening was a special occasion. My first leaving party for eight years. Due to circumstances beyond his control, our boss wasn’t actually in the office to do the leaving presentation during work hours so we elected to make it happen in the pub afterwards. This was fraught with danger as our boss is the kind of man who enjoys dragging something embarrassing up as a kind of leaving present. Bad enough in front of colleagues, but in a public bar? In fact I’d spent the past three years in fear of the photo of me pretending a large Spanish turnip (the focal point of the leaving do for another colleague once) was an extended penis coming back to haunt me.

Instead it wasn’t all that bad. I was presented with a signed photo from the members of my department of me looking pissed and flashing a peace sign to everyone (now occupying pride of place on the mantelpiece).

Then came some less welcoming words. “Now James has his own website…”

Yes, a laminated copy of the front page of this very website was duly passed around the assembled masses for their druken delectation. Fortunately it didn’t contain anything too incriminating (the first story being the tale of Leilani turning up late) and its presence here isn’t exactly a secret. Even so it was clearly an eye-opening experience for some people.

After that it was down to the serious drinking. Mila had actually forgotten that it was all taking place and when she got home from work she phoned up to wonder where I was. Once enlightened she wasted no time in charging over, stopping along the way to pick up a giant smiley face helium balloon which became the centre of attention for the rest of the night and which now occupies pride of place above the television.

After all that, can you believe we bailed out at about 9pm. I pleaded exhaustion given that I’d actually been awake since 5am after working on the breakfast show at the radio station this morning. Besides I had to get home and document it all before it all became a hazy memory.

To everyone at UBC, thanks for the memories guys. I’ve had an awesome time.

Spooling Out The Tape

OK hating this.

I think it was like this the last time I had to work my notice from somewhere. That was back in 1999 when I was being cast aside by the radio station I worked for at the time. Unusually I had been told at the start of August that my contract, due to finish at the end of September, was not going to be renewed. Despite this they kept me on air, doing stuff at breakfast and a big high profile Saturday afternoon sports show. By the middle of September the sheer pointlessness of it all had overcome me. Plans for the future simply didn’t involve me and without any motivation to impress the boss, I was simply turning up for a show and then dashing out the door before the news jingle had even time to finish at the end. Looking back on it, doing just three hours work for a full days pay wasn’t a bad way to live, but when you are staring down the barrel of career oblivion it is no fun at all.

Of course my current situation could not be more different. No career oblivion here, just the prospect of an exciting new job to come. It does mean of course that I’m increasingly irrelevant in the old one. From being the man around whom most of the office revolved when it came to computers, I’m now no longer answering calls. Instead I spend my day stuck on a spare desk, writing handover notes for my successors, playing minesweeper when that gets too boring and directing any queries that come my way over to the people who are taking over the helpdesk.

I shouldn’t feel too sad, after all there are better things ahead but right now I’m glad of the fact that I still have lots of holiday to use up before I go and so really only have to work three day weeks from now on. Working at the moment is like spooling out the tape, playing through the blank bit at the end of a cassette so you can turn over and start again.

Going Through Changes

I forget how long I’ve been saying to myself “I need another job”. Not that I hate the existing one of course but it is to be honest far too much of a comfort zone and also doesn’t exactly pay a fortune. Hence why I currently have two jobs in order to make enough money to rent a nice apartment and fund a foreign girlfriend (who will of course find it hard to forgive this suggestion that she is in any way a kept woman).

Now all that is about to change. The radio station want me. Exactly what they want me for has mutated over the last few weeks from being “chief engineer” to “man of many talents” but what it amounts to is that they want to bring me in full time. I’ll spend half my time keeping the computer systems that sustain the studios working (a poisoned chalice if ever there was one given their age) and the rest of the time being useful in programming. Producing shows, teaching people how to work things etc. All for much more money than I’m making at the moment.

It will be a wrench. I’ve worked for the current lot for almost exactly four years now. Four years ago I’d spent almost a year either on the dole or doing low paid temporary work, waiting and hoping for my next radio gig to come along. I uprooted my entire life in the back of a hired transit and moved to a small room in Tottenham to join the exciting world of London media. Since then I’ve upgraded every computer in the building twice over, introduced two new mail systems, had about five people complain about things I’ve said to them (it goes with the territory sadly) and in general had some of the best fun of my life.

Now I’m moving to an environment run by a man whose temperament is legendary throughout the world of both press and radio. An environment where countless managers have come and gone even in the short time I’ve been associated with it and where people are bounced out of the door in short order if they’ve been standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A foolish move or a bold one? Hard to say. All I know is that I’ve posted the resignation letter. No going back.

Well I’m shattered. That is what an 8 hour shift on a Sunday – no scrub that – an 8 hour shift which starts at 8am on a Sunday does for you. Such a day needs a unique, could not be scripted under any circumstances moment to lighten things.

We had one.

You one of the two shows I was working on today tries to have a special guest in each hour. The first hour of the show starting from midday is devoted to a review of the papers, with a member of the great and the good invited into the studio to pick over the best that the Sundays have to offer. This week, for reasons best known to themselves and possibly as some kind of twisted joke, the guest booked was none other than Leilani Dowdling – Page 3 lovely of this parish.

At 11am, one hour before the show was due to go on air, the producer decided just to ring and check that she was indeed on her way and would have no problem arriving at the studio in time.

Ring Ring

– Hello?

– Hello Leilani, just wanted to check that you were OK to be at the studio in an hours time.

– An hours time? But I’m in Birmingham!

Click. Brrrr.

It turned out that her booking had been less than specific. Admittedly our host was better known for his late night radio shows. Nonetheless it takes a special kind of person to misinterpret “Sunday at 12” as “Sunday at midnight”. I wouldn’t have minded but I subconsciously put a nice shirt on as well. Then again this was a person who spends their working life specifically not wearing a shirt. It would have been a waste of effort.

This week I have mostly been reading books…

Actually no, make that ever since we moved into the new place. For various dull reasons that are too complicated to pick through here, the shower in the bathroom doesn’t work. Or rather it does but it has two settings. Off and “hot enough to sear your skin off”. Until the landlord gets around to fixing it I’ve been rediscovering a love of baths, and what better way to pass the time whilst sitting and soaking (or as Mila puts it “breaking the world record for cleaning yourself”) than to read a book.

So I keep buying myself interesting books to flick through, much to the irritation of a certain young lady who buys me novels that she has liked and wants me to read as well (they are next on my list, I promise).

First up was Morning Glory, a book about the history of breakfast television in this country, penned by Ian Jones who I know through the TV Cream website. The problem with reading books written by friends of yours is that you are nervous about applying too many critical faculties to it, for fear of being asked your opinion and only having a lukewarm one to hand. Happily there were no such problems here, I did indeed break several world records for bathing due to the fact that it was impossible to put down.

Next up was Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now by broadcaster Andrew Collins. This was the followup to his autobiographical Where Did It All Go Right which detailed his somewhat idyllic childhood growing up in Northampton. I found the first book a rather difficult read, unsure of exactly why I was interested in why I was interested in the minituae of his childhood life and what he used to eat for tea at the age of 8. Plenty of people whose opionions I respect loved it though so I was motivated to plough on regardless.

The second book was far better, an account of his time at university in the 1980s, studying art at Chelsea. It was all there, moving into halls, making friends, getting the girlies, long summer holidays, painful breakups and graduating into the real world. The kind of book that really does flood you with nostalgia if you have ever been through a similar kind of experience (I have).

Anyway, doing all the reading has made me start hankering for a proper writing project to get my teeth into. Writing a book is on the list of things I want to do before this life is over and for many years I’ve been mulling over possibilities.

For a start there are all the weekly chart columns I’ve written since 1992, most of them faithfully collected for posterity. I’ve stamped many times on people who have wanted to put up archives of them for the simple reason that I’m sure there is a way of exploiting that catalogue for my own ends. Exactly how that would work I don’t know, especially as I’ve always regarded each piece of being very much of the moment, relevant only to the week in which it was published. How on earth do you turn a contemporary account of what was at Number 22 on May 15th 1995 into something that has the correct historical context and which people will want a copy of on their coffee tables?

I did start to put together some sample pages a few years ago but abandoned the project when it became clear I did not have the time to devote to it. Maybe if one of my many employers sacks me I may have the motivation. Not that I want them to of course, please nobody get any bright ideas.

Things that I have learned so far this week:

  1. Being a betting fan can be an intense round of extreme highs and extreme lows. Yesterday I was working at the radio station on the weekly live racing show and given that I had one of the countries most expert tipsters on the end of an ISDN line I asked him what his tips for the night were. He gave me advice on the 7.15 and 8.15 races.

    Nag No.1 storms into an early lead and romps home at 2-1, giving me a nice return on my £10 stake,

    Nag No.2 refuses to get into its stalls at first but once persuaded in, charges out like it has a rocket up its backside, only to get pipped at the post and losing me the £20 I won first time around.

  2. Always go with your instincts. Backing horses whose name you happen to like is a fast way of losing money, every gambler knows this. Hence despite the fact that a horse in the 7.45 with the wonderful name of Wunderbra gave us minutes of fun on the radio suggesting that it should push up during the race etc. I did not wager any of the hard earned on its chances. Nobody gave it a prayer after all. Wunderbra duly storms the race at 20-1.
  3. It is a very small world. A news report on the bloke wanted for the double murders up in Yorkshire featured a statement from Harrogate District Hospital where he is currently being treated. Spokesperson for the hospital was a lady by the name of Gilly Neild who in an earlier life as a 16 year old radio wannbe called Gillian Neild, appeared alongside me on a small radio station in the summer of 1991. For a short period at least, she is the more famous of the two of us.

I can remember the date quite vividly. Monday, October 23rd 1995.

 

I was at the time holding down a bread and butter job at a firm of accountants in Leeds. That wasn’t really where I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be was at the local radio station in Bradford where I had the honour of working on sports programmes and operating tapes etc. I was on the lowest rung of the radio ladder – the local radio tech-op.

 

That day however was different. The station had embarked upon a week of outside broadcasts with one show a day coming from studios in Halifax. I was the safe pair of hands called upon to work at the studios each day, making sure the outside broadcast went off OK and to play in adverts etc. I’d taken a week off my “proper” job and was ready for the experience of a lifetime.

 

Hence my position on that date, skipping down the road at 9am on a Monday morning and repeating over and over to myself “It’s 9am on Monday and I’m going to work. It’s 9am on Monday and I’m going to work AT A RADIO STATION.” Everything I had dreamed of since being at school was about to come together at that moment.

 

Looking back that week was a turning point in my entire career. Within two months I was actually on the air for real, within five months I had a 12 month contract as a presenter and could quit my crushingly dull day job for good. It was possibly the most exciting six months of my life.

 

The reason all these memories came flooding back yesterday was because I oddly enough found myself in the exact same situation. I have a real job (albeit still in the media) but still spend evenings and weekends at a radio station (albeit a big national one) pressing buttons and working the desk (albeit at a very important level). I have, however, been asked to take charge of a very important broadcast and as a result have booked time off work to go and do this. From now until the end of the weekend I am doing marathon stints behind the desk, helping with the broadcast of our live coverage of the Open Golf championship from Troon.

 

I don’t think I’d ever been in the office during the daytime before, only at evenings and weekends when most of management are away. The atmosphere is noticeably different, with a great many important people walking around and yet here I was as the man who was effectively in control of the output for most of the day.

 

That is why on Thursday morning I was skipping down the road, full of excitement for what lay ahead. Excited because rather than going to my job of three and a half years, I was doing something fresh and inspiring. Excited because it was 9am and I was going to work to do something special at a radio station.

 

Suddenly I was 22 again.

Yes, I’ve been on Top Of The Pops. Now who wants to touch me?

This all began a few weeks ago when the radio station for to whom I happen to devote a fair bit of my working life decided to get behind one of the many records being released to cash in on the Euro 2004 tournament.

The song they got behind was called “Come On England”, a rather tacky reworking of ‘Come On Eileen’ with new lyrics set to cheer on our boys in Portugal. The instruction went out that every show on the station was to give it the highest priority and that it should be played at least once every couple of hours (this on a speech radio station for goodness sake). The problem was the record was dire in my opinion and I muttered to a few people that we were setting ourselves up for a fall by promoting something so terrible. Top 30 was the best it could hope for said the resident chart expert here.

Well sometimes it is nice to be proved wrong I guess. All the promotion we gave it must have helped as last weekend the single shot to Number 2 in the charts and I had to write it up on Launch after showing my hand and declaring that for the first time ever I had an interest in the song and could not be relied upon to be objective.

Of course when you have a hit record, there is only one thing left to do – Top Of The Pops. The call reached me earlier this week that virtually the whole crew were being invited down to stage a big production of the song. The producers wanted crowds of people, footballers, cheerleaders and the band all taking part.

So it was that Wednesday evening saw the massed ranks of the production crew (myself included) pitching up at television centre in central London, signing in and being issued with security tags and being escorted through the corridors to the central doughnut (a circular concrete area and the scene of many a Record Breakers tap dancing event). We put our things down in the famed Star Bar and sat around whilst the set was built. BBC engineers were hard at work constructing stands, an astroturf pitch and a goalmouth. With us were the band, a crowd of hangers on and the odd page 3 girl just for effect.

Suitably issued with England t-shirts we were given our positions on the set. I was to be a footballer and along with several others had to stand to one side, jump up and down and dance to the song as it played until the final few bars at which point we raced forward and began kicking footballs around the pitch. Sounds silly but it was good fun.

What only then became clear was how cheaply the whole production was done. It was all to be filmed with just a single steadicam and in order for a range of shots to be available for the final edit we had to perform the song eight times. Yes that is right, eight times in a row we took up positions, jumped up and down and sang and then ran forward to kick footballs around. All this on a very warm summers evening to boot. Needless to say by Take 5 everyone was drenched with sweat and the sight of coolers full of water bottles was a very welcome sight.

Two hours later all was done and we trudged down the road and fell into the nearest pub to celebrate. The show aired this evening and in truth the whole performance looked a bit of a mess with far too many people stood around waving flags. You caught a glimpse of me a few times, jumping up and down and looking knackered although on occasion my head was obscured by the breasts of a large blonde model. Such are the perks of fame I guess.

Still, at the very least it is something to tell the grandchildren. I’ve never made a record in my life, never been recorded singing and have limited musical abilities of any kind. I’ve still lived the dream and performed on Top Of The Pops. Now who wants to touch me?