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?

Is this still big brother?

Just as a followup to the events of yesterday and as an example of one of life’s most priceless moments, the following is a true and accuracte description of a verbal exchange that took place in the control room not long after I had left.

I should explain that at the radio station we have about eight different TV screens in front of us so that we can monitor various events taking place. We can watch the usual TV channels, lots of Sky channels and also a few foreign stations thanks to some dodgy satellite cards and a little bit of cunning. Most of the time these are used so we have live feeds of English football matches on a Saturday afternoon but as a hidden benefit these same foreign channels relay some very interesting hard core porn late at night.

It was one of those channels that was being displayed on one of the screens. Our telephone operator for the evening Liz, (who just happens to be one of my favourite people in the world owing to the fact that she looks and talks like a sterotypical blonde bimbo yet in actual fact is the exact opposite of one) wandered out into the office briefly and then back into the studio. Caught unawares for a moment she spotted the porn channel which by all accounts was at that moment showing a particularly painful looking DP scene.

She paused for a moment, frowned and then asked:

“Is this still Big Brother?”

I don’t even want to think about how she managed to reach that level of confusion.

Following on…

Sometimes it is amazing what a different a few hours can make.

I’ve just returned home from my second stint of the day. Whereas the first was characterised by the entire office buzzing with an energy I’ve never seen before, the second was like stepping into another world.

The reason for this was actually fairly simple. The radio station had arranged a table at a central London cafe for everyone who wanted to go down and watch England take on France in what they hoped would have been an easy victory. This meant that the only people left at the radio studios were those of us involved with broadcasting the commentary of the game. Three of us in total.

We all of us agreed that the contrast was bizarre. In the run up to the big event you could hardly move for bodies. When the event itself was going on, most people were just not needed or had other things on their mind.

Not that it was a bad evening of course, the result sucked but at least it made for a great phone-in afterwards. In a way I’m sorry I have a real job to go to tomorrow and had to leave before it was all over.

Something Special

OK, now this could get a little self indulgent before I am done, but today has been the kind of day that you cannot go through without wanting to share just a small part of how it felt.

I’ve just returned from a marathon six hour stint on the air which began at 8am. This was no ordinary Sunday though – this of course was the final countdown before England’s opening game in Euro 2004. Working for a sports focussed station it has been hard to ignore the fact that the championships are upon us and in actual fact at times it has been unbearable waiting for things to kick off. In the last few weeks we’ve picked apart every possible issue there was in the run up to Portugal. The tension was getting to everyone – we wanted action!

So today’s day of action has come as a welcome relief. Better still there is a buzz about the place that I don’t think I’ve experienced in two years of working here. This you see is a genuine event and an event that we’ve thrown lots of resources at. As a result there are reporters on the streets, out in bars, following the team.. well you get the idea. All that translates to a radio show that crackles with genuine energy and excitement.

Normally Sundays are like a dead zone in the office. Only those who actually are working on air are normally around. Not so today. Just about everyone connected with the place has a job to do today, booking guests, preparing for outside broadcasts. I’ve only been one small part of it and have been buried in the studio for most of the day – but just to be there as a part of it has been the most enjoyable experience of my life.

It looks like I’m going to have to put my angry consumer hat on again. This situation will almost certainly not be news to anyone who has wrestled with trying to move house whilst attempting to maintain a broadband internet connection.

Now I admit I was naive. Moving from one flat to another in the same block and keeping my same telephone number, I was hoping that a great deal of hassle would be avoided. Not so. The advice from my ISP was that I need to cancel my existing account and ask for a new one to be created at the same address.

No problem. Mail sent, account cancelled along with an assurance that I will be buying a new one from the same people.

Online I go to their website to order a new connection. No can do. “You already have an account with us on this number.” Yes, I know that, but I need to cancel it and create a new one.

Back on the phone to the support line to an embarrassed drone who admits that they cannot do the two simultaneously. I have to cancel the old account as it is linked to my old flat. However it is also linked to the telephone number and they cannot create a new account for that number until the old one has been disconnected – which could take anything up to 10 days.

Here’s to up to a month without high speed net access. I may have to go out and get a life instead.

Moving Day

Or, as it shall come to be known, the day of the giant supermarket trolley. This is the thing you see, because we are simply moving to another apartment in the same development I figured that this was one move that could be done on the cheap. No need to box everything all up at once, no need to hire a van and/or man or any of the usual stuff. I can do this on my own, slowly and steadily just by carrying stuff out of the old flat, down in the life, through the car park and up in the lift again to the new place. My parents did their usual “don’t do it, you’ll regret it, think of your back etc. etc” but I was determined to see it through.

Hence this morning dawned bright and clear and I rolled up my sleeves, put a tatty pair of shorts on and set about the herculean task. Boxes containing videos and records? Not a problem. Large TV set? No worries at all – it is lighter than it looks. Admittedly juggling the two sets of keys and attempting to activate the electronic locks with both hands full took some doing but I was managing OK. However it was 3pm in the afternoon and I still had only done the living room, with the bedroom looking particularly daunting. Books, boxes under the bed, clothes. You name it.

One of the concierges who had been watching me with growing sympathy all morning eventually approached me and asked: “Would you like to borrow a trolley to help?”

Like music to my ears it was. I replied in the affirmative and followed him out to the garage where the incoming parcels which are too big to fit in the post boxes are kept along with all sorts of other crap they don’t know what to do with. Amongst this other crap turned out to be a large shopping trolley from the local Tesco. The mechanics of how it came to be there are not really for me to speculate on, suffice to say it looked in good nick and someone had dismantled the security lock to get their £1 deposit out of it. The concierge dusted it down with a cloth and triumphantly presented me with my moving tool.

Now astonishingly enough it was the best idea of the day. Large though it was, it fitted perfectly in the lift which meant I could wheel it up to the front door, dump at least six trips worth of boxes and stuff inside, wheel it through the car park and up to the new flat. Admittedly some sacrifices had to be made, mainly in the area of my own personal dignity as I can assure you that wheeling a shopping trolley rammed with ones personal goods through an underground cap park packed with Mercs and BMWs (only the people in the expensive flats appear to drive it seems) is not the kind of thing you want to be doing when you have people to impress.

Still, the job is pretty much done. For the moment we are still staying at the old place whilst I deal with the chaos in the new flat but the heavy work appears to be done.

Time now to set the world record between the clicking of the ‘post’ button and the openeing of beer can…

So I’m sat in the control room on Saturday night, bracing myself for a five hour shift of playing adverts, answering phone calls and trying to be funny on air when called to do so. The light flashes for an incoming call and so I put on my headset, press the button and put on my best “hello I am very pleased to be talking to you, what would you like to tell me about” voice that I reserve for these particular occasions. I do this to suck up to people, to make nervous callers feel comfortable about themselves but most importantly of all to attempt to keep the universe happy and to minimise the chances of someone completely insane being on the other end.

This time it failed.

On the other end was a lady, a mother, a very unhappy person. Apparently her 10 year old son had called up the previous show wanting to talk about a football game. His number had been taken and he sat waiting patiently for a call back. This never came, despite him calling up three more times during the show. His mother had decided she was going to stir some shit up on his behalf and so launched into a ten minute nonstop tirade about how horrible we were for treading on the dreams of her little angel, how incompetent we all were and how she was going to use her influence as a media researcher to expose the disgraceful way we treated children.

This was of course the last thing I needed at the start of a long shift, particularly as she was now clogging up the switchboard and I had five other lines ringing and a presenter on air running out of things to talk to himself about and wanting some callers to start interacting with. Deflecting her with a polite apology did not seem to be an option. Oh no, she wanted blood and even my offer to let her son come on the radio there and then was clearly not good enough. In the end I had to persuade a colleague to go into another room and let her rant for another 20 minutes, making sure to bring me back a detailed account afterwards.

Later on in the cold light of day I worked out how I should have reacted. The fact is that her son was almost certainly not going to be on the air owing to his age, the fact that the presenter of the previous show had already spoken to one underage caller that night and had insisted no more were given to him and because the show itself was sponsored by a brewery who were giving away crates of beer to the callers to the show. Hardly the best kind of forum for someone who was 10 years old. Kids are always crap on phone-in shows anyway. However enthusiastic they may be they inevitably freeze on air, give one word answers and make the whole process a waste of time.

I get the feeling that the mother would have been better advised to spend her time educating her son that sometimes life is disappointing and that hoped for opportunities sometimes do not materialise. I’m sure he was gutted that his chance to appear on the radio for 10 seconds was taken away from him but both he and his mother were mistaken if they thought they had an unshakeable right to be on the radio simply because they managed to get through. That is why it is called “call screening”.

Anyway, I sent the tale to my bosses along with the number of insane woman. Hopefully the cold light of day will have given her a reality pill (99% of all threatened complaints never materialise) but covering oneself is always a wise move.

Finally it is over. I have somewhere else to live.

Past occasions when I have moved house have been pretty much through my own choice. I became bored of living in the current place, had the finances to take a step up and did so. This time it was different. This time I had a hormonally imbalanced landlady (she is eight months pregnant it turns out) giving me the finger and a deadline to meet.

This time around I thought I would go for agents. Ringing the private landlords in Loot can be a hit and miss business and after the current experience I wanted someone who at least had a clue what they were doing to help me out.

Some were very good and very helpful. One bloke kept ringing me up every day with a new place to show me, although sadly all of them were too small and/or a bit too grotty for my tastes. Eventually he ran out of places to show me. Another was a man who lived just down the road from me, a one man band who could not try hard enough to help find me somewhere to live. During one evening he drove me around the area several times, showing me 3 or 4 different apartments, all of which were very good but none of which I was sure about. I must have been playing hardball with him a little too much as last week he stopped returning my calls.

So hence it was back to the private landlords and thank goodness we hit paydirt. A phonecall yesterday in response to an ad in a free newspaper led to us this morning being showed around a flat in the same block as the current one. Wooden floors, brand new furniture, a great view across the dock. It could hardly be better. After I played hardball in the negotiations the landlord let me have it for a knockdown price and said I could move in for free a week early. Something tells me he was so grateful to come across a normal looking couple who were showing an interest that he was prepared to give us almost anything.

So we have gone from being almost homeless to having a full two weeks to move all our things 500 yards down the road. Something tells me this is going to be the most stress-free house move ever. Unless of course I drop the TV or something.