Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A stiff blow

Guilty evidence

It was mighty windy last night. The howling squalls woke us up and according to the local forecast we had gusts of more than 30 knots. It played havoc with the recycling bins put out last night for collection this morning. One box of recycling had been blown down the road distributing its contents along the way. As it passed us it unloaded more than a dozen Walkers’ crisp packets into our drive. I collected up the crisp packets and wondered which neighbour is the secret crisp eater. Little did I know a more intriguing find was to follow. Among the crisp packets was an empty blister pack of Viagra. We are now waiting to see who retrieves the recycling box and who, therefore, consumes not only industrial quantities of Walkers’ crisps but impressive amounts of Viagra.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lunchtime Pint

Yorkshire Grey, Langham Street W1

The scene was quintessentially British. It’s lunchtime and a group of work colleagues were in the pub for a lunchtime drink. It must happen a thousand times over in every city and town but this group is unique. This is the Yorkshire Grey in Langham Street, just around the corner from Broadcasting House, and the drinkers are from the BBC – mainly Radio 4. There are newsreaders, announcers, reporters, news and current affairs producers, drama producers, documentary makers and actors. The programmes associated with these people reads like the Radio 4 pages from Radio Times. Virtually every cornerstone of the Radio 4 schedule is represented.

Peter Donaldson, the doyen of Radio 4 Newsreaders, started these lunchtime get togethers some time ago now and on the last Wednesday of every month former colleagues make their way to the back bar of the Yorkshire Grey to chew over old times. Yes most, but not all, those who attend are now retired no longer fashioning the sound background to middle England but old habits die hard.

It is custom to abbreviate the names of broadcast studios – studio 7 at Television Centre was TC7, the basement mixer (used by Woman’s Hour and Sport – now there’s a juxtaposition) was B9. Today was broadcast from 3E; Studio E on the third floor of BH. Pursuing the theme the back bar of the Yorkshire Grey is known as YG1. On the last Wednesday of each month YG1 is the scene of this ad hoc meeting of the great and the good of broadcasting – yesterday was such a day. If you closed your eyes for a moment that bar sounded like a montage of the entire week’s schedule on the network. Voices familiar from the Shipping Forecast blended with those of award winning reporters. Presenters recognized for their tenacious grilling of politicians mixed with the familiar tones of famous actors. Producers normally only heard on talkback or at production meetings provided the sound bed for it all.

Brian Redhead, editor Mike Chaney and yours truly in the Today studio for a press launch. Circa 1975.
It occurred to me that assembled in this one bar was some of the greatest speech-radio broadcast talent in the world. Most are now retired, of course, but talent does not expire when you exit the huge, unwieldy brass doors of Broadcasting House for the last time.  Here, in this bar, was enough talent to create a legacy Radio 4 network for a day. We had all the ingredients; announcers, newsreaders, newsroom senior editors and subs, news and current affairs producers, reporters, presenters and enough drama talent to fill the day’s schedule. We would, of course, be lacking an edition of the Archers before it got trendy, for that we’d have to raid a Birmingham pub. There would also be some roles present today but which were missing in our day. No compliance staff, for a start. We did all that ourselves back then.

So here’s a thought. I wonder, I just wonder, if we might be able to create a day of Radio 4 programming as it used to be. One to discuss next month methinks.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

On the Piste

Those ants (bottom centre) are people

I have always regarded skiing as a very efficient job creation programme for the medical profession. Go to any airport near a ski resort and in arrivals you’ll see happy smiling faces carrying humongous amounts of ski clobber eager to strap on two polished planks on which to plummet down a mountain. Then pop into departures and you’ll see last week’s arrivals sporting examples of the finest orthopedic workmanship. Those previously happy, smiling faces now return with splints, crutches, plaster casts and pinned bones. It’s the bone surgeons and medics who are smiling now.

Now I have to admit that I am not one of life’s natural athletes. The closest I get to running features my nose not my feet. Given all this history then you might wonder what on earth we were doing in the Alps. Well, friends John and Lori invited us to their house in Italy and I have to admit I misheard what John said – or to be more accurate I misunderstood. When he said “Come over and we’ll spend a few days on the piste” I didn’t realise it involved skiing.

Lori and Jo - just a few steps into Switzerland
We arrived at Turin airport in the dark. I should have guessed what was in store as we were surrounded by hundreds of happy, smiling faces all carrying vast amounts of suspiciously long luggage. John and Lori met us and our night drive through the Aosta Valley took just over an hour and we arrived at their stunning house – picture postcard alpine architecture – all granite and timber.

It was only the following morning that we realised where we were. Vast mountains surrounded us and the Matterhorn (14,692 feet) dominated. Suddenly, the euro dropped – we were going up the montains. “Oh, on the Piste” – I now understood - not what I'd heard at all!

The Matterhorn - with halo

Lori had thoughtfully got in supplies of eggs and bacon to make me feel at home but I was not fooled. I knew I was expected to climb mountains in return. But then, suddenly, there was some good news. The Italians have provided transport to the top of the mountains – ropes, spiked boots and crampons were not required after all – better still, old people get a discount. Life was looking up.

We drove to Cervinia where a tiny bubble suspended from a thin wire snaked its way across the mountainous landscape and disappeared. We were expected to trust our lives to this plastic gondola swaying a few score feet off the ground as it hurled towards mountain cliff faces missing the granite by inches. Not only that but we had signed up for three such rides – the final one was a huge box like construction into which a hundred excited Italians crammed. If anything had happened the noise would have been unbearable. Luckily, we avoided disaster and were deposited on the top of the mountain - in Switzerland. Look one way it’s Italy, turn through 180 degrees and you’re in Switzerland – all cuckoo clocks and holey cheese. It was very impressive. The vast majority of our fellow travellers strapped on their planks and headed off attempting to avoid the medics and rescue helicopters. Not all succeeded. We caught the box back one level where we had spotted a rather pleasant restaurant with inviting deck chairs. Here we soaked up the sun and ambiance while not actually risking the orthopedic experience.

Jo - on top of the world

John and Lori took the slippery slope down and we met up at a restaurant in the town for lunch. I was beginning to see the sense of all this skiing. As a reward for successfully sliding down a mountain you get booze and food.

Lori in a 'bubble'

Jo - relaxes on a snow 'deck chair'

Trevor and John - 'au bar'
Those cables are for people not power

The 'box' which holds 100 people
We spent several days exploring the mountains – we would all take the ski lifts to the top, John and Lori would risk life and limb by sliding down on their highly polished planks while Jo and I would play safe and descend the way we had ascended – on the lifts.

Trevor and Jo with the Matterhorn in the background

My view of skiing was slowing changing. I could see the merit in all this messing about with snow and ice. It is actually rather fun. Certainly those who did it looked a happy bunch and judging by the amount they ate and drank it clearly whipped up a thirst and appetite.

Beat that for a view!
We had a thoroughly enjoyable time and managed to explore some great restaurants and bars.  We also avoided any rides in air ambulances or the ski-sledge ‘blood wagons’. John and Lori were generous and welcoming hosts.

I think we might be tempted to go on the piste again.